More than 400 youth nonprofits that serve some of Washington state’s most vulnerable children will share in a $9.4 million federal government grant, assistance intended to keep these organizations afloat as other funding streams dry up during the pandemic.

The awards, which range from $10,000 to $50,000, are funded by federal coronavirus relief dollars from the CARES Act. The funds will help some organizations expand services. Several nonprofits say they’re now serving entire families, instead of just children, as parents struggle to find work or pay bills. Others say the grant will temporarily plug budget holes. 

More than 600 organizations applied, and 421 received grants. On average, about 88% of the children served by the winning organizations identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning), are Black or Indigenous students, are experiencing homelessness or poverty, or are immigrants. 

Youth development organizations — which range from child care centers and education programs to athletic and faith-based groups — have become increasingly important hubs for children during school closures. Although many of their services are now remote, these organizations often provide personalized mentorship and support that isn’t as common in schools. Most rely on a mix of public dollars and private or corporate donations to support their work.

The grant marks one of the first times that the government has made large-scale investments in Washington’s youth development groups, said Elizabeth Whitford, CEO of School’s Out Washington, a Seattle-based nonprofit that oversaw the grant-making process and worked in partnership with the Washington State Department of Commerce. 

“This particular sector is both very underinvested in and particularly important and connected to the young people we’re trying to reach,” she said. “I think that’s really the reason why it happened now.” 

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Whitford said many applicants have lost funding while simultaneously trying to expand services. Organizations that have asked families to pay a fee for services are particularly hard-hit, Whitford said. Many families are reluctant to pay for services that have now gone digital; others are tightening their budgets. 

“We’ve seen a ton of responsive, adaptive and innovative approaches coming from those organizations. But those have come with new costs and not with any funding tied to them,” she said. 

The Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association will use its $50,000 grant to pay for staff salaries and support families’ basic needs, such as rental assistance and food, said David Bestock, the organization’s executive director. The organization canceled its annual fundraiser in March, which Bestock says would have raised about $50,000, and has faced other revenue losses.

Some organizations said they have little room to scale back. Friends of the Children in Seattle, for instance, pairs mentors with young children who’ve experienced serious challenges; mentors work with their mentees for several years. Steve Lewis, executive director of the organization, said it won’t step back from its commitment to serve students long term.

The nonprofit was awarded $50,000 from the government grant, which will help fill in gaps left by losses in corporate donations this year, Lewis said. The funding will support current mentees and new children entering the program this year, “which is really pretty fantastic given that we’re in the middle of the pandemic,” he said.