03/18/12 — Golden LEAF grant talks focus on youth, economy, more

View Archive

Golden LEAF grant talks focus on youth, economy, more

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 18, 2012 1:50 AM

Education and work force development, youth services and opportunity, and economic development and infrastructure emerged Tuesday night as the top category groups for Wayne County residents working to develop projects that would qualify for some of the $2 million earmarked for the county by the Golden LEAF Foundation through its Community Assistance Initiative.

What projects materialize remains to be seen, though. The group, which represents local government, civic, education, church and other local groups, must first narrow down issues in those categories.

Golden LEAF funds come from the tobacco buyout and settlement reached several years ago between the government and the tobacco companies. A portion of the money paid out by the companies was set aside to boost economic development and quality of life in the state. The foundation was created to distribute the money.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 85 attended Tuesday's meeting at Wayne Community College. It was the third meeting in as many months and will be followed by two or three more.

"We are very pleased with the turnout and participation," said Pat Cabe, foundation vice president of programs/community assistance and outreach. "It is a lively group. Folks are obviously passionate about a lot of different issues. People truly care about the community. We thought it was a terrific meeting. One of the things we remind folks is that $2 million is and isn't a lot of money.

"So just as hard as it for them to narrow the list of issues they wanted to focus on last night, the decisions just get tougher along the way. We urge everyone just to keep their thoughts focused on the community at large and how we can do some positive things. It has gone really well."

The first meeting laid the groundwork, and during the second one, members came up with almost 100 issues in the areas of economic development and infrastructure, education and work force development, health and wellness, community, cultural and people services and youth services and opportunities.

They also came up with a similar number of assets and community strengths including a strong sense of community and a wealth of volunteers and youth organizations.

"The group (Tuesday) looked at key issue category groups and we asked them to narrow it down to the top three priorities at this time realizing that everything is important, but that you can't deal with everything," Ms. Cabe said.

Members then met as breakout groups to discuss the key issues and spent the balance of the meeting talking about what the potential success measures might be for an investment for those issues.

For example education and work force training, what does success look like, she said.

"That is what we asked them," she said. "They started talking about different kinds of indicators like lowering the dropout rate, increasing end-of-grade test scores. Those kinds of things.

"When you talk about economic development, it is about lowering the unemployment rate, decreasing the poverty rate, increasing new business startups. It is about putting people to work and creating a healthy economy."

In youth services and opportunities, things the members want to see accomplished might be reducing juvenile crime, reducing the truancy rate, and similar issues, she said.

"Please bear in mind they are just brainstorming these things at this point," Ms. Cabe said. "When they come back together at the next meeting, which will be on April 17, they will start to refine these a little bit.

"I mean we put up, like the last meeting, we put up a bunch of things on the wall. So they have got come focusing in to do. We wanted to get the group thinking about what is it that we want to have happen. What are some things that we want to change so we get more specific under each of those three key issue categories."

The next step will be to look at specific projects.

The local group will submit a list of proposals to the foundation for review. Once that is completed, foundation officials will go over the results of that review with those attending the meetings.

A local review committee will select the projects to be submitted to the foundation board, which will make the final decision.

Once the projects are approved, the grants will be distributed directly to the organizations that will be held accountable for how the money is spent, she said.

Applicants must be either a government entity or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Projects for private benefit will not be considered.

The next meeting will be held April 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Walnut Building, Room 101 at Wayne Community College. The meeting is open to the public.