(Tom Hennig photo) From left: Ryan Hale, Anthony Grant, Ed Hanna, Jerry Doyle and Martin Ritchey of the Mid-County Volunteer Fire Department in Caldwell County. They were members of one of 38 nonprofits that received the first round of grants from Bluebonnet.

By Denise Gamino

Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative is paying it forward to every corner of its 14-county service area.

In November, the co-op donated approximately $1.2 million to community programs that will improve the lives of tens of thousands of people in Central Texas.

The new Bluebonnet Community Grants program awarded 41 grants to 38 area nonprofits in the first of several rounds of grant disbursements that will total $3 million by the end of the program.

More hungry people are being fed. Victims of domestic abuse are receiving crisis help. Terminally ill patients are getting comforting medical care. Firefighters are better equipped. Senior citizens are staying active and healthy. Little Leagues are playing on better ball fields. Communities are better prepared for disasters. And more.

Bluebonnet received 173 applications requesting $7.78 million for the first grant cycle. The 41 grants cover capital projects and operational expenses, and range from $10,000 to $50,000.

The Bluebonnet Community Grants money comes from a legal settlement. The program is not funded through co-op operating revenue.

“We have $1.8 million left to distribute,” said Ben Flencher, Bluebonnet’s Board chairman. “We encourage organizations that didn’t submit applications or get chosen in this first round of grants to send applications before the next grant cycle’s Feb. 16 deadline.”

In future grant cycles, Bluebonnet will award grants only for capital projects.



(Tom Hennig photo )

A few members of the Hopewell-Rosenwald School Renovation Committee gather outside the historic school in Bastrop County. From left: Doris Sampson, Ruth Jones, Sophia Williams, Elroy Williams, Martin Brown and C.L. Jones. Sophia Williams, her brother Martin Brown, and C.L. Jones were students at the school. 

In the early 1940s, Sophia Williams attended first and second grades in a small wood building in Bastrop County that today is an official historic National Treasure, though in disrepair. The Hopewell- Rosenwald School opened in 1922 in the rural community of Cedar Creek to educate African-American children prohibited by segregation from attending the public school system for white children.

(Tom Hennig photo )

In winter, students gathered around the wood-burning stove, which was the only source of heat for the two-classroom school.

Williams’ grandmother, Sophia McDonald, donated land for the school. “We really specialized in the three Rs: reading, ’riting and ’rithmatic,” said Williams, now 80. During recess children jumped rope, played softball and scratched a hopscotch grid in sand. “We’d bring wood in and at lunch we’d sit around the stove in the winter time,” she said.

The school was among 5,300 educational buildings constructed nationwide with money donated by Julius Rosenwald, head of Sears, Roebuck and Co., who worked on the project with renowned African-American educator Booker T. Washington.

Hopewell-Rosenwald School closed in the late 1950s as desegregation allowed black students into public schools. Bluebonnet awarded a $50,000 capital grant to the Hopewell-Rosenwald Community School Project and Austin-based American YouthWorks to help convert the withered building into a community center for events and education for everyone.

Young workers from American YouthWorks will help with repairs. American YouthWorks teaches trade skills to youth and young adults seeking opportunities for advancement.

“The young people are gaining a respect and reverence for history in a way that will change them, but also getting skills in the process and that’s another big win for the community. We’re developing our future workforce,” said Parc Smith, CEO of American YouthWorks.



(Jay Godwin photo)

Benny Robinson of Giddings, above, leaves the Giddings Area CARE Center food pantry with a cart of food. A grant from Bluebonnet Community Grants will allow the pantry to remain open more days to distribute food to people in need.

Forty-five years ago, U.S. Army soldier Benny Robinson constantly crawled on his knees to avoid enemy fire as he guarded an ammunition depot in the Phu Tai Valley in Vietnam. Today, Robinson is 65 and damaged knees forced him to give up his lawn service job. The Giddings Area CARE Center food pantry keeps him from going hungry. “This really comes in handy,” he said. “A lot of us really can hardly make ends meet.”

The Giddings food pantry is open just three days a month. A $35,000 capital grant from Bluebonnet means the pantry can buy storage, cooling, computer and pallet equipment so it can soon distribute food several days each week. It will also be able to match food to family size and needs rather than giving all recipients the same items.

“The food pantry is just vital to people of all ages, from the older folks down to the moms with kiddos,” said Gene Parker, president of the pantry and one of its founders. “We’re constantly getting phone calls from people who say, ‘We just don’t have enough to make it through the month.’ ”

Last year, the pantry served nearly 15,000 people, but plans to serve almost 18,000 people with the extended hours. The Giddings pantry gets its food from the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas in Austin, which received a $25,000 capital grant from Bluebonnet to help pay for a new distribution facility to meet growing demands, including counties served by Bluebonnet. “No one is turned away,” Parker said.


(Jay Godwin photo)

Toy Kurtz, (left), Steve Miller and Frank Blizzard exercise at the Washington County Healthy Living Association’s Senior Activity Center, which will move to a permanent home with help from Bluebonnet Community Grants.

For 40 years, the Senior Activity Center in Brenham has operated out of borrowed space. This month, the popular center will move into its first permanent home with help from a $50,000 capital grant from Bluebonnet.

“We are thrilled,” said Toy Kurtz, executive director of the center. “Some seniors have brought in $5 and $10 a month to try to help it get done.” Construction of the 18,378-square-foot, $3.7 million multi-use center began in January 2015. “The seniors keep driving by the construction site. They can’t wait to get in,” Kurtz said.

The center will have a computer lab, fitness center, art room, sewing area, library, gift shop for local crafts, classrooms, a meditation/relaxation room, meeting rooms, a commercial kitchen, and dining room for 300 that can also be used for private events. The senior center has been operating in the Knights of Columbus hall and, before that, a vacant elementary school.

The center offers lunch five days a week and delivers meals to Washington County seniors who cannot leave home. Last year, it served 16,878 meals and delivered 12,948 more.

Brenham is a popular retirement spot because of its slower pace and beautiful scenery. “We’ve got people coming into the community every single day for retirement.” Kurtz said. “The first thing they want to know is where the senior center is so they can take classes.

“This new senior center has been a huge community effort,” she said. “This is what a community can do when it wants to.’’


(Sarah Beal photo)

Sherry Murphy, executive director of Family Crisis Center of Bastrop, said the grants will help with operational expenses and much-needed repairs to the center’s facilities where victims of domestic or sexual abuse from Bastrop, Lee, Fayette and Colorado counties are served.

Space is so tight at the Family Crisis Center in Bastrop that the 24-hour hotline workers sit side by side, making it difficult to hear an abuse victim with so many conversations in the air. And victims of domestic or sexual violence who visit the center don’t have immediate privacy to discuss their emergency needs.

The center has an ever-increasing caseload from four counties: Bastrop, Lee, Fayette and Colorado. One in three women will experience physical violence in an intimate relationship, national statistics show. Last year, nearly 1,000 people impacted by violence and abuse asked the center for help. The center provides crisis support, emergency shelter, transitional housing and classes on how to change violent behavior.

Over the past 20 years, the Family Crisis Center has grown from 30 full- and part-time employees to more than 60 employees. But its 5,000-square-foot building in Bastrop badly needs repairs and renovations. Bluebonnet awarded the center a $50,000 capital grant and an $18,000 grant to help with operating expenses.

The capital grant will allow victims of abuse to be served more efficiently and appropriately, said Sherry Murphy, executive director. The reception desk and work stations will be moved and rearranged, new carpet and tile flooring will be installed, walls will be painted and the conference rooms will get new furniture—enough to accommodate the entire staff for meetings and trainings.

“We want to maintain a comfortable environment for families seeking safety and services, and this Bluebonnet grant ensures that much-needed renovations will occur,” Murphy said.



(Tom Hennig photo )

Mid-county VFD President Martin Ritchey gets ready to don his protective gear at the station in Caldwell County. 

Several times a month, members of the Mid- County Volunteer Fire Department in Caldwell County meet for classroom training and to discuss business. But the VFD doesn’t have a meeting room at either of its two fire stations, so firefighters drive fire engines and brush trucks to a county building in Lockhart for the team sessions. If a fire breaks out during a meeting, the vehicles and firefighters must be ready to roll.

(Tom Hennig photo )

The station’s two fire trucks.

This regular travel outside the VFD’s rural district between Lockhart and Luling “adds wear and tear on our apparatus and increases the time to respond to emergencies,” said Martin Ritchey, president of the Mid-County VFD. Ritchey also is chief of homeland security and the emergency management coordinator for Caldwell County.

Bluebonnet awarded a $50,000 capital grant to the Mid-County VFD to help construct a community office building for firefighting training and meetings as well as for public functions. The building will be constructed at the VFD station on FM 671 near Texas 183 south of Lockhart. The fire station does not have running water or restrooms, but the new office will provide those amenities and enable volunteer firefighters to work from and sleep in the building during emergency events, like the recent floods in Caldwell County.

“We struggle for adequate space to host the Caldwell County Firefighters Training Academy,” Ritchey said. “This central location would be ideal for our academy.”

List of winners
Photographs of winners


Applications for the next cycle of Bluebonnet Community Grants are now being accepted. The application deadline is Feb. 16, 2016. For more information, visit the Bluebonnet Community Grants web page at Email questions to or contact Rachel Ellis, Bluebonnet’s chief administrative officer, at 888- 622-2583, ext. 7929#.

Eligible organizations are nonprofits within Bluebonnet’s 14-county service area, including those in cities not served by Bluebonnet.

Two grant distributions will be made in 2016. The second application deadline is Aug. 15, 2016. If grant money remains, Bluebonnet also will disburse grants in 2017.

Grants are awarded within four months of the application deadline by a majority vote of Bluebonnet’s Board of Directors.

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