(Written by Ian Ferguson for The Northern Light)

When Tom and Janet Boyhan decided to ride the Tour de Whatcom, a 105-mile community bike ride around the county, they sent letters to their friends seeking donations to the Helping Hand grant program. The program is run by the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Foundation (WCPRF) and funds parks and recreation projects in Whatcom County. Nearly everyone responded to the request, raising a total of $2,600.

The money is now available in the form of grants of up to $1,000 for organizations working on recreation, parks and trail projects in Whatcom County.

According to a press release, grant-eligible projects “should make a positive improvement to a park, trail or recreational opportunity and provide for community member involvement as volunteers. Projects could provide elements our cities and county parks departments might not be able to prioritize in their budgets.”

The Boyhans live near Everson, but the grants can be used anywhere in Whatcom County. Janet Boyhan said the Birch Bay and Blaine communities have numerous planned and ongoing projects that would make excellent candidates for a grant.

“There are so many great parks and trail projects going on in Blaine and Birch Bay, and we’d love to support recreation in that area,” she said. “We ride our bikes there all the time.”

Boyhan is on the WCPRF board, and also serves as a county parks commissioner, but she said her and her husband’s main motivation for raising the money was a lifelong love of the outdoors.

“We’re big outdoor people. We love hiking, backpacking and riding bikes, and we want to increase local opportunities for outdoor recreation,” Boyhan said.

Donations made to WPRF, a non-profit, are tax deductible. Boyhan said raising money for a specific non-profit is an efficient way for people to support various causes.

“We’re just individual citizens doing small things that add up to a big difference. It doesn’t have to be parks and recreation – it can be any cause you believe in. Anyone can do it, and there are so many different ways to raise money, from bake sales to bike rides,” Boyhan said.

The cycle of the Helping Hand grant program varies according to funding, and some years it isn’t available. Boyhan said a corporate or individual sponsor could change that with a relatively small annual donation.

Applications for a 2015 Helping Hand grant are available online at wprfoundation.org/helping-hand-grant-program. The deadline to apply is May 14.