Downtown Elkhorn

Elkhorn Community Grant Writer Katie James had no idea how successful she would be when she began her new role in September 2022. An Elkhorn resident with a Journalism degree from the University of Missouri, James had never written a grant in her life. Still, she understood the many needs of the Elkhorn community and had a knack for compelling storytelling. Just over a year later, she has collected more than $1.1 million in grant funding. She promises this is just the tip of the iceberg on what is possible for the Elkhorn community.

Katie James, Community Grant Writer

James, who is also president of the Matheson Memorial Library Board and Elkhorn Area Middle School PTO, said, “I absolutely love this job because it allows me to help Elkhorn in a new way. Hearing about these projects, doing the research to demonstrate their need, and then working with officials to help make them possible has been really rewarding.”

The Community Grant Writer position was created to seek federal, state, and private funding opportunities for the City of Elkhorn, Elkhorn Area School District, and Elkhorn Chamber. This new position required her to jump into various proposals headfirst and quickly come up to speed on community needs. From transportation to economic development, she has spent the past 12 months working for all three entities to prioritize dreams and help ease the Elkhorn community’s fiscal strain.

“Exceptions aside for Covid relief funding that was available a few years ago, grants largely can’t take care of existing operating expenses like building heat or salaries, but I can try to ease the burden on new innovations or upcoming projects, like road repairs, emergency services, classroom innovations, etc. It’s just a matter of meeting the funding eligibility, putting in an application, and crossing my fingers.”

Unfortunately, submitting an application is no guarantee of award. Grant writing is extremely competitive, and James has found that Elkhorn only sometimes meets the priorities of the highest need of an award that are commonly revealed amongst the selected recipients. Each agency or foundation has its own metrics too, which can also add confusion to the process.

“Depending on the funder, Elkhorn can fall into different categories such as either rural or urban, wealthy or economically disadvantaged, culturally diverse, etc. One agency even grouped us in as the City of Milwaukee! Helping these funders understand who and where we are in Southeastern Wisconsin, that Walworth County has pockets of large wealth but also areas of large need too, has been particularly challenging,” James said.

Friends of Matheson Memorial Library and Library Foundation members receiving Gage Marine Grant, May 2023

Of the grants she has written, either alone or as part of a development team, James received funding for 12 projects, including the school district’s YouthBuild construction program and the upcoming garden being developed next to the Chamber of Commerce. Another eight projects are still pending decision. But what keeps James up at night are the various community projects, ranging from a speaker system for downtown to the seed money for a new Woodworking Club at the high school, which she wrote grants for but couldn’t get across the finish line to funding for 2023.

So, starting this Fall, she’s developed a new concept called the “Elkhorn Community Wish List” to bring these projects together into one illustrated booklet as a last appeal to local community members who may be interested in giving back to see these dreams realized. These City, Chamber, and School District projects range in price from $750 to $88,000. They are what she calls “shovel ready,” meaning they have been carefully vetted, thoroughly researched, and meet an identified need for Elkhorn.

Applied Material Solutions, Inc. stepped up to donate life-saving AED equipment to the Elkhorn Police Department, for the Elkhorn community, August 2023.

“There is a cross-section of civic-minded people, or ‘Elkhorn Angels,’ as I call them, who have the ability to make a big impact on our community. I’d just like to sit down with them for coffee and chat. Hear their story and how they want to give back. Do they have a passion for the Arts? Our first responders? Addressing food insecurity? Maybe they want to help veterans or create a dog park in Elkhorn. Maybe they are just looking for a tax deduction. My hands are full with so many proposals right now that could have a tremendous impact for us all. But without grant funding or local ‘Angel’ assistance, these dreams will be just that… dreams.” James concluded, “I very much hope to see these projects through and be well caffeinated from many coffee chats by year’s end.”

Those interested in receiving a paper or digital copy of the “2023 Elkhorn Community Wish List” to see these proposals can contact Katie James directly at (262) 741-9148 or by email,, in person at her office in the Elkhorn Chamber of Commerce building located at 203 E. Walworth Street in Elkhorn, or by clicking here.