The purpose of the forums is to determine how to spend a $2 million community assistance grant waiting to be signed over once a consensus project is submitted to, and approved by, the foundation..
“This is really a different approach to grants making,” said Golden LEAF Foundation Vice President of Programs/Community Assistance and Outreach Pat Cabe. She and foundation consultant Leslie Anderson officiated the forum.
“Instead of sitting and waiting for paperwork to come in, the foundation’s going out and getting its boots muddy – and saying ‘What are the key issues in the rural parts of North Carolina?’ and ‘How can we best invest this money?’” Cabe said.
The foundation has already awarded grants to nine N.C. counties, she said.
“Primarily, (the grants we’ve written so far) have involved anything from education and workforce training programs to access to health care to economic development,” Cabe continued. “We’ve found there are some trends. It’s not exactly the same in every county, but people do grapple with the same issues.”
She said that neighboring Scotland County has already completed the process.
“We actually wrote two grants for Scotland County,” she said. “They chose to spend all of their money on education.”
She said that the larger of the two grants was a $1.2 million infusion for the Richmond Community College satellite campus there, and the second was a just under $700,000 infusion to add technology in Scotland County Schools middle school and ninth grade classrooms.
Neighboring Anson County is also holding a series of public forums, and hasn’t yet completed the process.
“It’s a real challenge,” Anderson said of the forums. “First of all, this is a very important step because the statements they work up will really be what drives this process.
“They’re making some choices about priorities,” she continued. “While $2 million sounds like a lot of money, in the face of the needs, it’s really not a lot — getting focused is what this forum is all about. There are a million things they could spend this money on, but they have to choose”
Anderson used the metaphor of a funnel to explain the process that the series of five forums go through, beginning with a wide-range of issues, and narrowing the focus to a few, ultimately arriving at one thing the $2 million will fund.
At the second session, Richmond County representation met at Cole Auditorium in December, first adopting the mission statement of improving quality of life in the county.
It then identified education, economic development, quality of life and infrastructure as the four areas of focus, and split off into small groups to discuss them.
After coming up with anywhere from four to a dozen things working well and things needing improvement
The groups reformed Thursday to choose one or two key issues that deserve consideration for the funding in each of the four identified areas.
In the groups, the diverse set of voices brought to the table. In the economic development group, a citizen discussed workforce development with RCC President Dr. Sharon Morrissey, among others.
“We need to change the mindset of people who think you can dig ditches and make a good living,” she said. “We need to let them know, that today your most likely not going to be digging ditches with a shovel – you’ll be using electronic equipment that you need to be trained to use.”
Morrissey and others discussed such options as the enlistment of local industry and businesses to require a Career Readiness Certification to be employed to ensure a trained workforce, and the addition of such programs as HVAC at RCC as options to improve economic development.
At times, it became difficult for groups to reach consensus, as many voices with different interests and intentions spoke up for their own favored issues.
The quality of life group saw about 20 people trying to reach a consensus on a key issue, from a list of six issues.
“I think what you really want to do is not start an inventory,” Cabe told the group. Ask yourself what you want to change. Revisit this list and start to think what the impact of each of these issues is. The answer you’re answering today is not the what, but the why.”
Once each of the subgroups identified one or two key issues, the entire group reassembled and reviewed those findings to find overlap.
“All of these issues are inter-related, so what you get is a lot of overlap,” Cabe said. “A lot of times you find that what’s good for education is good for economic development is good for quality of life and so on.”