Maria Tidwell returned to her native Texas in 2009 after years in New York. She got hired as a code enforcer in the little town of Gladewater, and started looking for what needed improvement. She didn’t have to look far.
“We need everything,” she says. New streets, new water and sewer lines, but especially new sidewalks (the town has none), so school children won’t have to walk in the streets.
The federal government considers Gladewater “impoverished,” Tidwell says, and it accurately depicts the former oil boomtown of 6,100 people, 120 miles east of Dallas.
Tidwell knew Gladewater needed federal help. But the town had little history of seeking and receiving federal funds. “I felt instantly discouraged and overwhelmed,” she says, “because while I am training to become a building inspector, I’m not a professional grant-writer.”
She found a lifeline in the Local Infrastructure Hub. Founded in 2022, the national program helps small- and mid-sized cities develop competitive infrastructure grant applications. Many new grants are available through recent measures such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and Tidwell was eager to tap them. She participated in one of the hub’s online bootcamps for writing grants. “I got real excited,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
Gladewater is seeking a “Safe Streets for All” grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant would include $250,000 to plan sidewalks and safe crosswalks. They’re needed more than ever, Tidwell says, because more school children will soon be walking when the local school district reduces its use of buses.
If the “action plan” grant comes through, she says, she will seek an implementation grant of $1.5 million to $2 million.
Tidwell recently earned her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Texas at Tyler. Her experiences in Gladewater helped with her thesis topic: bureaucracy in city governments.
She is now a champion of infrastructure grants, urging other local governments to pursue them—with the Local Infrastructure Hub’s help, if possible.
“I’m really excited about what they’ve done,” Tidwell says. “I would never have tried to do something like this. In the bootcamp and a coaching session, they went through it line by line. It was invaluable.”
She said U.S. Department of Transportation officials also provided crucial guidance as she finalized her grant proposal.
The Local Infrastructure Hub is led and funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Ballmer Group, Emerson Collective, Ford Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. Its partners include the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and Results for America.
The hub’s programming has attracted more than 1,000 attendees nationwide. The bootcamps have provided assistance to cities, towns and villages on funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, from replacing crumbling infrastructure to increasing energy efficiency, to building stronger communities.