NORTH PORT — The pie is huge, as in $721 billion. But getting a slice is the trick.

That’s Valerie Malingowski’s job. She is North Port’s grant writer, the person seeking some of the $721 billion the feds each year divvy among 50 states. In the position since 2019, Malingowski has retrieved about $155,500 of grant funding. Her salary is $74,467.

But the city has applied through regional planners for $25 million in grants to rebuild/widen part of Price Boulevard. The city needs to add more lanes, sidewalks, drainage and other improvements to Price between Sumter and Toledo Blade boulevards, the busiest portion of the road. If approved, the city would have to pay about $17 million of the project, estimated at $42 million.

Malingowski said federal grants are highly competitive and snaring pieces of them can be difficult. She shared details about her job with Sun readers.

Her background

Pittsburgh native. Moved to North Port in 2000.

Undergrad: Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. English and secondary education.

Master’s degree: University of South Florida, Sarasota campus, Library and Information Science.

Where things started

“City of Venice … they are awesome! I spent 13 years there, eight of them working as the Grants/CRS (Community Rating System) coordinator (writing, administration and compliance), and I also did floodplain management duties — I’m a certified Floodplain Manager and kept up my certification through the years.”

Grants have ‘strings’ tied to them

“I started grants by accident. I was working as an administrative coordinator in engineering when we had a grant that needed monitoring and compliance. All grants have ‘strings’ tied to them, and I was working on the strings. Next thing you know, I was writing them too. I went back to school for my master’s degree while working at Venice and left to work at the Jacaranda library as a librarian for about a year when I graduated. Venice contacted me about coming back to work for them doing grants in a new full-time job … and did. I was extremely lucky to have bosses that threw me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to expand my knowledge.”

Must work well with others

“My biggest success at Venice was Legacy Park. It is located under the Venice Avenue Bridge. The property was a cement plant. Venice and nonprofit partners came together to secure funds for land acquisition. The city was able to get four more grants for construction. We received millions of dollars of grants for that park. I really enjoyed working for Venice. The community, staff and elected officials had a collaborative vision and it made grants very successful.”

Southeast to North Port

“North Port opened a finance position in 2013 handling capital projects and grants on the finance side. I’ve always wanted to work in North Port because I lived here. I knew everything about Venice, but practically nothing about the city where I resided. I applied and got the position. I spent three years in Finance (division), then three years in Public Works as the business manager. When the grant writer position originally opened, I did not apply for it, but I did consider it. When the position remained unfilled and was reposted, I knew it was my sign to get back into the grant world again.”

Standard Operating Procedure

“I’ve been grant writer for just over one year. This first year I’ve spent time looking at our ‘string’ structure — basically, are we in a good position to accept federal and state funding and meet all compliance measures (reporting capabilities, compliance with federal regulations, financial reporting). A standard operating procedure was developed, as well as a grant assistance form for departments to use. My boss, Cari Branco, and I recently met with departments to review the procedures, so we are able to have a good structure when the large grants start arriving. I also spend a good amount of time monitoring the strategic plan, budget and commission directions, and meet with departments to ensure that we are going after the right grants for the right programs and projects.”

‘Like playing the lottery’

“Since I’ve started, we haven’t received a lot of grant awards. Recently, several state programs were cut or eliminated due to the COVID pandemic. We have 13 applications pending reviews with multiple agencies. Depending on the program, it can take up to a year or more to know an outcome of a grant application. Pending applications total over $34 million, and are for a variety of items including stormwater, utilities and fire mitigation projects, fire equipment, police equipment and building improvements to Warm Mineral Springs.

“The largest is the pending $25 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) federal grant for the widening of Price Boulevard between Sumter and Toledo Blade Boulevards. Will we get the grant? Maybe not. The program is extremely competitive. It’s like playing the lottery. Will we obtain feedback from the Federal Highway Administration, strengthen our argument, and reapply next year? Absolutely. We will also look for other grant opportunities.”

‘Pick yourself up, regroup and try again’

“Grants are not successful with one person. The best grants take a team of people — if the team includes active internal and external stakeholders, there is a much better chance for success. My advice to anyone starting out would be to start small and focus on projects that are meaningful to your organization. The grant and granting agency need to align with your mission. Start with local foundations such as the Gulf Coast Community Foundation or try local big-box store. Research the grant agency or foundation — what is their mission? Does it align?

“Also, don’t get hung up on the losses. There’s going to be more losses than wins. You will have to stay positive, pick yourself up, regroup and try again.”


Load comments