Candy Jones has been the city of Conway’s grant administrator for nine months, and she’s already brought in almost $900,000 for projects.
“She’s knocking it out of the park,” Mayor Bart Castleberry said.
Sometimes it’s an actual park. She wrote and received a matching $165,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism to build the city’s first splash pad in Laurel Park.
The city will kick in the other half, but the grant allowed the city to start the project much earlier than expected, she said.
“The application was basically writing a novel,” Jones said, stacking her hands a few inches apart to show the amount of paper involved.
“I think my proudest [grant] for the city is the splash pad.
I cannot wait to see those kids’ faces when it becomes operational and they can go out there anytime for free,” Jones said. Scheduled to be completed in June, the splash pad will be able to accommodate 300 kids at a time.
“I told the mayor, ‘I may drive by there every day.’”
Steve Ibbotson, director of Conway Parks and Recreation, said having Jones write grants takes a lot off his full plate.
“She did a fantastic job putting it together and working with the outdoor-grants people,” he said.
Her position is new for the city, but Jones brings decades of experience to the job. “For 30 years, I have done this,” she said.
Jones, 56, has been an independent grant writer through her company, CMS Consulting. She worked with the Arkansas Legislature to help countless small cities get grants.
“The mayors would approach [the legislators] and say, ‘I need some help.’ That’s typically how I got involved in it,” she said.
“Water, wastewater, street and drainage were my expertise,” she said, making quote marks in the air when she said expertise. “I enjoyed doing those.”
The first grant she wrote and received was $350,000 for a sewer project in Biggers, a tiny community in Randolph County. She recalled what a thrill it was to get a large sum of money and make a difference.
“The cool part was going to these little towns; some didn’t have water and sewer. All these people have been personal friends for life,” she said, referring to the state’s mayors and city employees.
Term limits changed how legislators worked with small cities because the long-term relationships were no longer that long. She was working as the Title VI grant coordinator for Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde when the Conway job came open in April.
Jones grew up in Pine Bluff, but her parents moved to Little Rock. She graduated from Parkview High School and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
She has lived in Conway since 1992. It’s where she met her husband, Arch, and she considers it home. Jones said she dreaded telling Hyde, whom she enjoyed working for, that she was going to apply for the Conway job. “It’s my dream job. I told the judge, ‘If I don’t apply for this, somebody else is going to get my dream job.’”
She said it has been just as she hoped. For one, Castleberry, who took office in January 2017, “is so easy to work for.”
“I’ve had nothing but a warm welcome from every department,” she said. “I call it Team Conway, my buddies. I couldn’t do it by myself.”
Through her consulting company, she worked with former Conway mayors David Kinley and Tab Townsell, who didn’t run for re-election in 2016 and became executive director of Metroplan, a planning agency in Little Rock.
“And Tab, he helps us big-time through Metroplan,”
Castleberry, a longtime fire chief in Conway, said the grant-administrator job was something he thought would help the city, seeing how well grant writing worked in the Conway Fire Department.
“I knew there were a lot of grants available [for the city],” he said. Castleberry said Jones was selected among other good candidates. “She has done a great job,” he said.
Jones said it’s gratifying to help all the city departments find funding. She said the easiest area to work with has been the Conway Street Department, because that’s her comfort zone.
“I didn’t have a learning curve,” she said, adding that Finley Vinson, department director, has paved the way in that area.
“My learning curve has been the Police Department, Fire Department, sanitation. I’ve learned a lot,” Jones said.
“She’s been very helpful to me,” Vinson said. “She came over to my office shortly after being hired in order to get up to speed about anything we’re doing in any way related to the grant process. I appreciate her desire to be helpful. She’s always willing to help, always wanting to help. If she does her job well, that means she’s making more work for herself.”
The Conway Fire Department contacted Jones last week with an idea for a grant, and the city attorney’s office wants her help, too, she said. Department heads often have ideas for grants but no time to pursue them.
“You’ve got a regular job to do, and sometime between 1 and 5 a.m., you might have time,” she said, laughing. “Sometimes I need six of me.”
Plus, she understands the federal paperwork required. “The state forms are 10 times easier than the federal forms,” she said.
Jones said she tries to educate people about grants, too.
“They’re not 100 percent; they’re not. Grants are really to supplement. You maximize your dollars and put money to things you couldn’t get grants on,” she said. “I do little ones; I do big ones. It doesn’t matter what size.”
She’s proud of the $18,000 grant the city was awarded from the state’s General Improvement Fund for the city’s code-enforcement office, an idea brought back when employees went to a conference. It provides grants to low-
income people to clean up their properties. For example, in the spring, “we had an elderly couple — it was an extreme situation where you couldn’t see their house.” The couple filled out an application, and a grant was awarded to pay the Conway Physical Plant to clean up the property.
“That’s an example of a good one,” she said. “We’ll use our money wisely.”
People sometimes ask to follow her around to find out the secret to her success of grant-writing, but she said that won’t help them much. “Read the application; then read it again,” she said. It’s vital to put in every bit of information requested, too.
Another grant she’s working on, which is due this week, is to extend Stone Dam Creek. And she is waiting to hear the results of an 80-20 infrastructure grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for a road to connect Baker-Wills Parkway from Old Military to Mill Pond roads on the south side of Conway. The road will create better access to the city’s new airport, Jones said.
“It was really a fun one,” she said. “We worked with the Planning Department, the Street Department, Garver [a multidisciplined engineering, planning and environmental services firm], … and we had a month to do it.”
Jones said the grant cycle is usually March through October. “We’ll be gearing up, doing all sorts of things,” she said.
Her goal for the new year is to keep working with each city department to get grants that make improvements.
“We’ll continue to explore every avenue of funding for projects we want to do,” Jones said. “I don’t say, ‘No.’ I say, ‘Let’s see if we can make it work.’”
Chances are, she can.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.