Melissa Thackston, Grants Coordinator, City of Charlottesville
Your job title is Grants Coordinator. What, in your own words, would you say you do?
I primarily oversee the City’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership grants. These are funds the City receives annually from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help improve the housing conditions, create economic opportunities, and provide needed services for Charlottesville’s low to moderate income residents. I work as the liaison between our non-profit partners and HUD to ensure we are in compliance with HUD’s complex (and ever evolving) regulations. I also oversee other City programs with a low to moderate income focus as well as work to bring new programs and funding to our community.
What is the best part of your job? The most difficult part?
The best part is seeing the life-changing impacts these funds have from creating permanent affordable housing through the local land trust to long-term homeowners being able to safely age in place to helping low-income businesses grow and strengthen their enterprises to seeing someone go from a career training program into their first full time job with benefits. I’m also lucky enough to work closely with not only some amazing folks throughout the City, but also a variety of wonderful non-profits that give so much to our community.
The most difficult part is having to turn down or reduce funding for some really great projects. We try and stretch our funding to address as many community needs that benefit as many folks as possible, but every year we are faced with less funds and more need. I’m a big believer in an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so it especially drives me crazy when it is very clear that our inability to fund a program this year means we are going to have to spend more down the road.
How does your job most directly impact the average person?
I think many people would be surprised by who is considered low to moderate income in Charlottesville, as the current median family income is $82,600. We’ve helped everyone from the unemployed to two parent college-educated households; from homeless to under housed/overcrowded to empty-nesters struggling to heat and cool rooms they no longer need; from folks who are just entering the workforce to those who worked for years only to find themselves on a fixed-income that doesn’t cover all their expenses.
What is the most interesting project or work experience that you’ve had while with the City?
One program I oversee provides free exterior paint for low-income homeowners. It’s one of the only programs where I get to really interact with the actual beneficiaries. It is amazing how much you can bond with someone over the color of their house! I had one lady who inherited her home from her mother. Her mother had worked for years to be able to buy a home and the first thing she did was paint it pink. That was many years ago. When the daughter came into the program, the house had faded with much of the paint chipped away. The daughter told me that getting a fresh coat of pink paint on the house was like getting a piece of her mother back. Another lady lived in her house for over 50 years. I mentioned how the house must be full of memories, she agreed, and we spent the next two hours going through 50 years of photo albums…of her cats.
What is a little-known fact about you?
Despite rarely eating meat, I once had a gig working in the Spam Mobile handing out samples and recipes. I was apparently so good at getting folks to enjoy the sweet deliciousness that is a nice warm Spam sandwich, that in addition to my hourly pay, I was given a few cases of limited collector edition Spamalot Honey Spam. Then, I made more money selling those cans of Spam on ebay than I did handing out samples! To this day, I’ve never eaten any type of Spam.