By Erika Webb
In just over a decade, the Volusia Forever ECHO grant program has contributed $58.3 million to environmental and historical preservation as well as cultural and outdoor activities to enhance the quality of life in Volusia County.
Starting in mid-May ECHO staff will host five community listening sessions to give residents an opportunity to comment about the program's future.
"With the ECHO program now 12 years old, the County Council wants to ensure that the program is meeting current needs and objectives. In a workshop held in early April, County Council members asked staff to set up a listening session for each district," Volusia County Community Information Director Dave Byron wrote in an emailed response to questions.
The sessions are expected to have at least one county council member -- who represents the district in which the session is held -- in attendance.
At the ECHO Advisory Board meeting May 8, ECHO Program Coordinator Bobbi King told members the County Chair and Vice Chair will be present at each of the listening sessions.
Members of the council want community feedback before considering new applications for funding.
"In the workshop with the County Council on April 9, they decided to hold off on this year's applications," Ms. King said. "Applicants who have applied can be considered for the 2013-2014 grant cycle which starts later this year."
To qualify for grant funding, ECHO applicants must be not-for-profit -- 501(c)3 -- organizations incorporated for a minimum of two years and located in Florida. Organizations designated as not-for-profit for less than two years must demonstrate 10 years of service and have main offices within the county.
Mr. Byron told the board he wanted to personally invite each member to attend, and explained the sessions have been widely publicized in an effort to encourage a "good turnout."
"The purpose of the sessions is really just public input, really focused on what the ECHO program is doing well and some thoughts, as we embark on the last third of the years left on the ECHO program, where this program may be headed in the future," Mr. Byron said.
Volusia ECHO provides grant funds to finance acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities to be used for environmental/ecological, cultural, historical/heritage, or outdoor recreation purposes that must be open for public use.
ECHO provides more than $3.5 million a year exclusively for constructing environmental, cultural, historic and outdoor recreation facilities. Over its 20-year span, the ECHO initiative is projected to raise an estimated $99 million, according to the county's website.
"The meetings will include a brief presentation on the ECHO Program, followed by break-out sessions that will consist of four tables representing each of the ECHO elements: E - Environmental, C - Cultural, H - Historical, and O - Outdoor recreation," Mr. Byron explained.
Environmental learning centers, conservation lands outreach, and marine life and bird rehabilitation are just a few of the many ecological programs funded by ECHO. Museums, theaters, art and music programs are some of the cultural assets made possible by the initiative. Historic sites, county parks, trails, outdoor festivals and many other recreational and sports opportunities have been preserved and created through ECHO.
"The participants at each table will be asked to brainstorm on issues such as needed projects and facilities that ECHO could help to fund," Mr. Byron stated. "The ideas will be shared at the end of the meeting. Staff will compile all ideas from each listening session and bring that information to the Volusia County Council to help members make decisions about the future of ECHO."
Sessions are scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. on these dates and at the following locations:
Tuesday, May 21, at the Museum of Arts & Sciences, 352 S. Nova Road, Daytona Beach
Thursday, May 23, at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, 1414 Art Center Ave., New Smyrna Beach
Wednesday, May 29, at The Casements, 25 Riverside Drive, Ormond Beach
Tuesday, June 4, at Lyonia Environmental Center, 2150 Eustace Ave., Deltona