City of Fitchburg

Guidelines for the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative grant program have changed from 2019.

Modifications were made to the eligibility requirements after the city withdrew a $10,000 grant to Chapel Valley Church in the program’s first year. The funding, which had yet to be paid out, was canceled in November after violations of separation of church and state were raised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

FFRF alleged in a news release the church had planned to proselytize during events funded by the city, despite telling the city the gatherings would be secular.

School districts are not eligible to apply for HNI funds, and religious organizations who apply are expected to use funds for non-religious purposes, and there can be no advancement of religion either directly or indirectly.

The grant application is open until Feb. 17, 2020.

A Verona Area High School initiative received $8,000 last year from HNI, which is now prohibited under the new guidelines. Two other VASD schools, Stoner Prairie and Sugar Creek elementary schools, also applied for HNI funds, as did the Madison Metropolitan School District Trails to Success program, none of which had its requests granted.

Other changes to the HNI program for this year include the creation of the United Way’s “Fitchburg Fund,” which will include $15,000 in grants for improving academic proficiency, developing leadership qualities and promoting career-readiness in three city neighborhoods, according to an email from city community development planner Wade Thompson.

According to the email, the city intends to keep the majority of the money in the Verona Road West neighborhood, but will also use funds in the Belmar/Renaissance on the Park and North Fish Hatchery Road neighborhoods.

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.