alison-austin-hillel_web.jpg(Florida International University) – The Belafonte TACOLCY Community Center won a $5,000 “makeover grant” in a nationwide competition sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee, but did not garner enough online votes to win one of five grants worth $50,000 each.

The “Drops of Good: Maxwell Community Project” contest awarded $50,000 each to community centers in Atlanta, Philadelphia, South Central Los Angeles, Denver and Bronx, NY.

Five runners-up in the competition, which ran from April 13 to June 17, won $5,000 grants.

TACOLCY had led the tally until the last week, when vote totals were removed from the contest web site to heighten suspense.

The loss disappointed Alison Austin, TACOLCY's CEO, who had big plans for the $50,000 prize.

“I can't really say what happened except that those that were behind us passed us,” she said. “We thought we were doing the right thing and encouraging the right people to vote.”

The Maxwell House contest was run in conjunction with Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit working to preserve affordable housing and revitalize communities, which chose the ten competing community centers based on their impacts.

The Maxwell House web site allowed supporters to vote once a day and Austin said the community's response was enormous. TACOLCY had garnered some 150,000 votes when the counts came off the site.

“­We worked very hard to get the community involved,” Austin said. “I'd see people in the supermarket and at church on Sunday who'd tell me they voted.”

TACOLCY plans to use the $5,000 to repair an air conditioning unit serving one of the center's buildings, to paint interior spaces and generally spruce up.

“The big treat was to get the building painted on the outside, which will no longer happen,” Austin said, a job that would cost some $20,000.

TACOLCY got the word out that people should vote through an extensive social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter, e-mail blasts and media coverage.

“I still don't know exactly what happened except somebody else figured out a way to bypass us,” Austin said.

Neil Reisner may be reached at

Photo: Alison Austin