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Courts insider unravels grants

How's this for an enviable job description? Travel around the country, coaching people on how they can secure foundation and government money to do good things for society. And, in between, help write some of those grants for admirable causes.

Christine Groves, former deputy court administrator for the 5th Judicial Circuit, is doing just that these days, and it is hard to imagine someone more suitable for the role.

Through the courts, she witnessed desperate need. Through her participation in various community alliances, she has seen people trying to make things better. Now, she is blending the perspectives as a consultant for organizations nationwide.

"Everybody hears the statement, "There's so much money out there, you just need to know how to get it,' " Groves said. "Well, you have to know where it is and how to go get it."

As area organizations can attest, Groves knows. Last year, she paired with Mary Lee Cubbison, director of the Centers for Citrus County, to seek a $55,000 training grant for the newly formed Drug Coalition of Citrus County.

Their application impressed the right people: The Drug Coalition was one of just 30 community groups awarded the grant. Five members of the organization traveled to three four-day sessions last year in Miami, Seattle and New Orleans, gaining tools crucial to the coalition's successful launch.

Groves' consultant work will be "another great resource that we're going to have in the community," said Danielle Damato, who participated in the training and has worked with Groves through Citrus' Shared Services Alliance.

Such expertise is particularly needed in the current climate of budget cutbacks and thin resources. As more groups seek increased government funding, nonprofit organizations are forced to look elsewhere for money to keep them afloat.

The good news is, 3,600 organizations give more than $700-million throughout Florida each year. But the grant writing process can be intimidating to beginners.

That's where Groves comes in.

In December, she retired as deputy court administrator after 14 years with the judicial circuit that includes Citrus and Hernando counties. Budget constraints had creeped into that system as well: Last summer, Groves' full-time position was split with another employee whose position was being cut.

The timing, however, was perfect. Groves increasingly had been helping area groups with their grant applications and had been working for years to learn the ins and outs of the process.

Three years ago, she completed the philanthropy course at Rollins College in Winter Park. She also got an inside track on what should go into federal grant applications by reading and scoring them one week every summer for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Last spring, she represented Citrus and Hernando counties for the reading of a $28-million contract that will privatize many of the child welfare responsibilities currently held by the Department of Children and Families.

She decided to make the side work more permanent a couple of months ago by founding her own consulting company, Resource Development Specialists Inc. With that, a new career had begun for the Brooksville resident.

"Now she can really focus her attention on some of the organizations that really need help," Damato said.

This year, Groves will conduct 36 workshops on grant writing from Fort Lauderdale to Portland, Ore. She has partnered with Kentucky-based Zocklein & Associates, a veteran nonprofit consultanting firm that handles the administrative side of the seminars.

She will present one of these two-day workshops Wednesday and Thursday at the Hale Senior Activity Center in Dunedin. For $299 each, people from nonprofit or government organizations will have the chance to learn the parts of a grant, how to write each piece and where to look for available money.

The companies are offering $99 scholarships to help cut down on the cost for area organizations, Groves said. To register, call toll-free 1-800-371-5703.

Groves said a wide range of people can benefit from learning such a skill. In Kentucky, she helped a young man interested in building a skateboard park find a pot of money set aside for just that sort of project.

About two years ago, she also helped secure a $1.1-million grant for Marion County, her biggest yet. That money was used to establish a program that allows youth offenders to learn job skills while earning money to repay the victims of their crimes.

Groves loves the variation her new gig provides. One week she is compiling an application for a family reunification project and the next working with people trying to start a humane society for animals.

"It runs the whole gamut," she said. "I mean, there's money out there for everything."

Those who have worked with Groves on applications so far have been happy with the outcomes. Her low-key but knowledgeable approach is a winning formula for people of all grant-writing skill levels, Cubbison said.

"For someone who is just starting out (with grant writing), she would not make someone uncomfortable or overwhelm them with too much information," Cubbison said. "For someone who is more experienced, she immediately meets you at that level."

Citrus' Drug Coalition liked Groves work so much that they have hired her to help finalize the group's bylaws and help them apply for nonprofit status.

So, even though she won't be the court representative in such organizations anymore, Groves still will be very much a part of their success.

"I'm excited about what she's going to do for us," Damato said. "She has a lot to offer."

_ Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkinssptimes.com.

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