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After Carroll County had to eliminate grants administrator Brenda Marrah’s position with the county due to budget cuts in 2011, the City of Galax wasted no time in snapping her up.
Right away, she set to work bringing in a flood of federal, state and private grants to help fund different projects throughout the city.
By November of that year, the city had been awarded nearly $470,000 in FEMA grant money.
Back then, City Manager Keith Barker agreed that hiring Marrah was a wise choice on the city’s part. And in the years since, she has continued to prove herself.
So far this year, Marrah’s work sending in grant applications has earned the city a whopping $1.2 million. The money has benefitted several of the city’s departments, including Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, Galax Volunteer Fire Department, the Safe Rides to School Program and new water and sewer projects.
Just last week, Marrah was publicly thanked by the GVFD at a firefighter training session. Because of the grant money Marrah landed for the department, it was able to afford new air packs.
Other FEMA-related grants helped the department acquire new turnout gear and a new brush truck; as well as a new position through the city to help recruit and retain firefighters.
“We are so lucky to have these firefighters,” Marrah said as she reviewed the list of awards the department had been given this year. “I can’t imagine how these people work a 40 or 50 hour week, and still roll out of bed at two in the morning to answer the call of a neighbor or even a complete stranger.”
The greatest feeling, according to Marrah, is seeing organizations like the fire department being able to do their jobs better as a result of these grants.
Several other groups have thrived this year thanks to Marrah’s efforts.
Chestnut Creek School of the Arts saw a concept become a reality when it was awarded $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission for a new woodworking studio.
The new addition, as explained by the schools executive director Chris Shackelford, will be primarily home for instrument-making and furniture-making, two art forms that run deep in the roots of this area’s history.
Just this month, Marrah helped CCSA land another $75,000. As of right now, with Marrah’s and the school’s combined efforts, approximately 86 percent of the project’s funding has already been secured.
“The last funding piece from the Tobacco Commission has been filed, and we’re excited about that," Marrah said. "We’re thinking that this is going to happen.”
Also on July 16, Marrah received notice that two awards were given for the Safe Rides to School Program. This money will allow for a part-time coordinator at the city school system, and several bike and walking programs.
The person hired for the position will work to develop a traffic control plan for the roads that surround Galax schools, and assist with several projects under the Safe Rides Program.
This award will also be used to buy traffic safety vests and lighted wands to increase safety for police crossings guards; and a stock of around 30 bicycles and helmets for a “bike lending library."
“We will have a person to help conduct those rides, coordinate and integrate bike safety training... it’s very exciting,” said Marrah.
Recently, Marrah has been hard at work applying for a series of grants, mostly from the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission, for some water and sewer projects. Recently, the city’s wastewater treatment plant was awarded a grant that will provide them with a new emergency generator connection.
This will allow the plant to produce water for up to six hours in the event of a power outage.
She is also working to secure funding for several repairs on flood-damaged roads, particularly in areas like MacArthur Street and Creekview Drive.
Some other smaller awards this year include one for a compactor used for grading and a small award for a portable generator to run more intersection lights during electrical outages.
For Marrah, spending hours poring over stacks of grant applications is a labor of love for her community. “It makes me feel good that I can do something to help the city, and [seeing the end result] is one of the best benefits of my job.”
As the city bounces back from economic hardship, Marrah’s work is definitely being noticed by the community.
“Her work has been invaluable [to the city],” Barker told the Gazette on Friday. “Some of the projects we are currently undertaking are projects that we would never be able to figure into our budget otherwise.
“It’s pretty advantageous to see these impacts with the grants she is able to get. It makes us able to bring some of our capital needs to the front much quicker.”