Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority accepting applications for microenterprise grant

Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 4:05 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority (AMHTA) is currently accepting applications for their microenterprise grants program.

The initiative is designed to help beneficiaries of the organization to start a new business, expand an existing business, or acquire a business.

Allison Biastock, Chief Communications Officer with the AMHTA, explained that 20 to 25 grants are provided per year, in amounts of up to $10,000 each.

Biastock explained that the microenterprise fund is one of the longest-standing employment initiatives. “It’s very near and dear to our heart because it has a great direct impact on not only the beneficiaries who receive the funds, but to their communities and their local economies.”

“Meaningful employment is really an important part of living a full and meaningful life, so the employment and the associated community engagement does a lot to reduce isolation and promote health and wellbeing for our beneficiaries,” she said.

“Employment in a traditional setting may not be the best for everyone, and that includes some of our beneficiaries. So employment opportunities, and self-employment opportunities where the individual can set their own schedule and be their own boss can lead to really great outcomes,” Biastock went on to say.

In order to qualify for the grant, an individual needs to already be a beneficiary of the trust authority. This includes Alaskans who experience a mental illness, developmental disability, substance use disorder, traumatic brain injury, or Alzheimer’s Disease or other related dementia.

The grant only applies to businesses defined as a microenterprise, which means having five or fewer employees and total capital of no more than $35,000. Biastock listed animal care, cleaning companies, tree services, and photography businesses as among those that have been helped by funds in the past.

Niki’s Nest in Fairbanks was awarded a total of $10,000 from the initiative in April and November of 2020. Initially offering chicken-sitting and coop-cleaning, Niki’s Nest, owned by Nicole Rizer, has expanded to produce dog, cat and rabbit treats, as well as warm composting.

Rizer’s sister Michelle Aiken helps her sister manage finances, acquire resources, and oversee production for the business. Aiken said the grant allowed Rizer to expand her coop, her treat offerings, and allowed her to set up shop at a farmers market over the summer.

“The microenterprise grant helped tremendously, because we already had a little bit of a startup of just some chickens, but really needed to have a job that Niki could do - and we found, through having these chickens, that she loved them and she enjoyed spending time with them and she did a great job working with them,” Aiken said.

Rizer said her favorite part of the job is making the treats. She also discussed taking care of the chickens, saying, “I give the girls love and care and also my coop chickens, I give them loving care, and I scoop poop, and yes, I do sometimes get to wipe and clean their chicken butts.”

According to Rizer, her favorite chicken is named Big Mama. “She is [a] light gray and lavender-ish bird, and I love her, and she does poop a lot.”

The nearest application deadline is January 27th, 2021. More information about the grant can be found at the organization’s website. Biastock encourages interested applicants to look at the application process early, because it may take time to put together the needed materials.

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