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UA Little Rock Student Writes $3,000 Grant for Illinois School District

Kate Richars
Kate Richars

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student wrote a successful $3,000 grant for her mother’s school district in Illinois that will help raise mental health awareness for the community.

Kate Richars, an applied communication major from Newton, Illinois, took a grant writing course with Dr. Barbara L’Eplattenier, a professor in the Department of Rhetoric and Writing, during the fall 2020 semester.

“Dr. Barb did a great job with this course,” Richars said. “I loved it. We learned basically every aspect of a grant and how to write a grant to the best of our ability. We know to pull language from the grant proposal to get the attention of those who will be reading the grant. She set us up to have the best possible way to win the grant.”

Richars wanted to write a grant that would make a difference for her community, and she quickly thought of her mother, Mary Richars, who works as a librarian for Dieterich Community Unit School District 30.

“I decided that writing a grant for my mom’s school would be the best because I grew up in that building,” Richars said. “I wanted to write a grant for her library. My mom’s school needs library materials to help build a community conversation about mental health and the social and emotional development and learning of students.”

Dieterich CU #30 received a $3,000 Libraries Transforming Communities Focus on Small Rural Libraries grant, which supports community engagement projects, from the American Library Association Public Programs Office. The school district was one of only five school libraries who received the grant, which has even been added to the American Library Association’s website as an example.

“It’s gratifying when a student who is new to grant writing writes a winning grant,” L’Eplattenier said. “In the class, Kate learned how to do background research, project planning, how to locate funders, and how to write and revise a grant. All of that work paid off. Not only was the grant funded, but the American Library Association also asked if they could use her grant as a model on their website for the next round.”

The school district serves approximately 560 students in Effingham County, Illinois, and serves as an important epicenter in the small village that does not have a local public library or public health department. The grant will provide necessary resources to assist students with social and emotional development, growth, and learning.

The school district has recently added a second guidance counselor to assist with the increasing needs of the student body. The counseling staff has established a social emotional learning curriculum aligned with the Illinois Social Emotional Learning Standards. However, additional support and resources are needed to provide resources to all students. Funding for these materials is limited. After paying for databases and supplies, the library has a $1.41 per student to spend on new books for the library.

“Our school guidance counselors have requested that these materials be added to the library collection to assist in their efforts to address our students’ development of better coping skills,” Mary Richars said. “We will conduct school community conversations that will guide us to developing curriculum and materials that utilize our purchases and bolster existing classroom curriculum.”

The school district will use the grant to enhance the library collection to develop community conversations regarding the social and emotional development, growth, and learning of all students. The community conversations will include teachers, counselors, the school nurse, the school resource officer, parents, and school administrators. The community conversations will serve as the basis to establish monthly units to address students’ social and emotional needs utilizing the new library materials acquired with the grant funds.

“Having Kate write this grant has really shown me how much she has grown while at UALR,” Mary Richars said. “When Effingham Public Library contacted me about this grant being available, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to get everything put together in time to submit the application. Our small district does not have a grant writer. Without Kate’s efforts and her professor’s feedback, Dieterich would have lost out on this funding. We are very thankful for all they have done to bring this grant funding to us.”

As for Kate Richars, she’s thankful that the grant writing skills she learned at UA Little Rock were able to help her home in such a positive way.

“It was very exciting to know the school will continue on with the project and receive more materials to help students and families with mental health awareness,” Richars said. “I’m glad I took the class. I definitely learned a lot. Now that I have this skill under my belt, I’m excited to see how this will benefit me in the future.”