St. Vincent de Paul of Greater Cincinnati (copy)

St. Vincent de Paul, a local emergency aid organization, was one of 15 organizations to receive a community engagement grant from the University of Cincinnati.

The University of Cincinnati awarded a combined $100,000 in community engagement grants to 15 local nonprofits to promote outreach efforts in the Cincinnati metropolitan area.

In addition to financial support, UC will provide resources for the recipients to connect with students who are interested in volunteering. Interested students — particularly those with an interest in working with nonprofit organizations after graduation — can get involved with semester or yearlong volunteer programs.

Awards ranged from $2,525 to $10,000. From soup kitchens to educational programs, all recipients have one common goal in mind: to better the lives of Cincinnatians.

Check out this year's winners in the gallery below:

Here are some of their success stories:


Nurturing Educational Readiness and Development from the Start (N.E.R.D.S) is an organization that aims to combat low academic achievement and student disengagement by engaging students in hands-on activities that encourage them to enjoy learning. The organization offers a wide variety of clubs, including robotics club, book club and garden club.

Tonkia Bridges, a former teacher, is the founder and CEO of N.E.R.D.S. Due to insufficient funding, Bridges began paying out-of-pocket to fund several student clubs and initiatives. At one point, she needed multiple copies of the book “Wonder” for the students in book club, so she reached out for help on Facebook.

The response was overwhelming. The wave of contributions from Facebook users allowed Bridges’ club to raise enough money to provide each student with their own copy of the book. The experience inspired her to start N.E.R.D.S.

“Everyone is a nerd, because everyone loves to learn,” Bridges said. “A lot of times, they just haven’t tapped into that part of themselves … We aim to inspire that inner nerd in everyone.”

Bridges said the grant funding will help to financially support the organization, but the biggest source of support is the volunteers who work in clubs and other services the organization offers, such as ACT prep.

“I hope to have retention with the volunteers,” she said. “What I would love to see is UC students working with our students throughout their college career … to build bonds with our students.”

St. Francis Seraph Ministries

Based in Over-the-Rhine, this nonprofit aims to nourish Cincinnati’s low-income population through several ministries, including low-income women’s empowerment, soup kitchens, bagged lunch initiatives and the “Cooking for the Family” program.

Cooking for the Family teaches families how to shop for groceries and cook nutritious meals for less than $10.

“Cooking for Families mostly consists of single mothers who learn to take control of their own lives through cooking,” said Chris Schuermann, executive director for the ministry. “Instead of looking to the Dollar Store for dinner, they can cook a wholesome sit-down meal for their families with what they’ve learned through our services.”

The organization hopes to launch five separate locations for the Cooking for the Family ministry in the near future, Schuermann said. All that’s needed is enough volunteers to help run the program.

Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati

The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati (IHN) used its grant funding to help provide homeless families with emergency shelter and assistance. IHN’s main goal is to keep families experiencing homelessness together while they find a new home.

The organization has teamed up with more than 100 local congregations to make sure the homeless receive warm meals and a bed to sleep in. It has partnered with more than 1,000 volunteers of various faiths who open up their houses of worship to help those in need.

Garrett Parsons is the pet program coordinator and housing specialist for IHN. The pet program assists animals whose owners became homeless or are at risk of homelessness until the owner finds a permanent residence. Most of the animals in the shelter are cats and dogs, but according to Parsons, the most exotic animals they’ve taken care of include “a turtle and a bearded dragon.”

Between 30 and 35 volunteers help each week to care for the animals. With the grant money from UC, IHN hired a social work intern to help run the shelter and train volunteers.

Once the pet and its owner are reunited, IHN helps the owner gain eligibility for federal welfare programs, such as Medicare and food stamps. Parsons hopes to work with landlords to make Cincinnati a more pet-friendly city.

“Most people with pets are evicted because of their animals,” said Parsons. “We want to work with landlords to allow pets in more affordable housing, and [we also want to] work with pet owners in training their animals so they are well-mannered.”

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati

Habitat for Humanity works to ensure affordable housing for hardworking families. The program helps families build and buy their first home with an affordable mortgage through a variety of programs, such as the homeowner education class.

Classes are open to anyone interested in learning about buying a home. These classes also address other common home-related issues, such as lawn care and general maintenance. Habitat for Humanity also utilizes the Financial Peace University program, which aims to help people achieve their financial goals.

This year on April 13, HFHGC is hosting “Rock the Block” — a neighborhood cleanup project in the Five Points neighborhood of Fairfield Township. Volunteers will work on a variety of mini-projects throughout the day, including painting and landscaping jobs.

Beth Benson, vice president of development and communications, said the organization hopes that the grant from UC will encourage students to volunteer for the Rock the Block event.

“The UC Bicentennial Grant will help involve first-year UC students in planning and executing Rock the Block events,” said Benson. “Many partners are needed to reach out to neighborhood residents, plan all the logistics of a big event, promote it inside and outside the neighborhood and accomplish all the day-of-event tasks.”