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For the third straight year, block clubs and neighborhood groups in Buffalo are being encouraged to sign up for the Mayor's Matching Fund program.

The fund, begun two years ago, offers city block grants to block clubs and coalitions, business associations, non-profit community organizations and public schools. The funds, half of which are raised by the organization and the other half matched dollar-for-dollar by the city, help pay for neighborhood planning and improvement projects and public school partnerships. Grants range between $200 and $10,000; the average award is about $2,500.

Kevin Horrigan, fund coordinator, said applicants match their city requests with cash or a combination of cash and in-kind service donations.

"The most popular form of match from their standpoint is sweat equity," said Horrigan. "Many of these neighborhood organizations don't have the ability to raise cash and we realize that. That's why we put a monetary value of $7 an hour on their volunteer labor, otherwise many of the groups wouldn't be able to come up with their match."

Workshops, conducted by a representative of the city community development department, have been scheduled to inform neighborhood organizations about the application process.

Workshops were held Monday in the city's Fillmore and University districts and Wednesday . in the Masten District and the North District.

A workshop for groups in the Niagara District will be held at 10 a.m. today at the Allentown Association headquarters, 234 Allen St.

South District groups may attend a workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday at South Buffalo Neighborhood Housing Services, 1937 South Park Ave. Groups in the Ellicott and Delaware districts will be informed at workshops scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 4 in the Ellicott District Community Development Center Corp., 644 William St., and North Buffalo Community Center, 203 Sanders Ave., respectively.

Organizations are encouraged to approach neighborhood businesses for in-kind donations and other collaborations.

Past recipients of the Mayor's Matching Fund include the Gaelic-American Athletic Association in South Buffalo which installed shamrocks on light standards in the Irish Heritage District along Abbott Road.

The Rodney Street Block Club in the city's Masten District used the funds to paint a mural in Central Park Plaza to help combat graffiti in that neighborhood. Hamlin Park residents, also in Masten, installed planters throughout their neighborhood, and the Allentown Association in the Niagara District installed a sign in a community garden at Main and Allen streets.

In addition to neighborhood improvement projects, community groups may use the funds to help develop neighborhood plan, such as the Forever Elmwood group has planned for the Elmwood Avenue commercial district.

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