Small communities sometimes fall through the cracks in the floor of government concerns, which makes ARC's interest in helping small towns and unincorporated communities sustain themselves and thrive doubly important.
The Mississippi Division of the Appalachian Regional Commission brought together last week in Tupelo leaders from three Northeast Mississippi communities and three from other ARC towns in Mississippi (Louisville, Coffeeville and DeKalb). The goals were learning how to agree on priorities and how to fulfill them. Each leadership team left with a $3,000 ARC grant to jump-start or partially fund projects.
In Mississippi, ARC's main office is in Tupelo, but it operates as a division of the Mississippi Development Authority, an executive branch statewide agency.
ARC arguably is the most successful of the Great Society programs started and envisioned during the Lyndon Johnson presidency. It reaches geographically and programmatically from New York state to central Mississippi. The region embraces the heartland of small-town America as well as major cities. Its flexibility allows each state division to tailor programs practically and with more focus than some other federal enterprises.
Citizens of Aberdeen (Monroe County), Bruce (Calhoun County) and the Ruckersville community in Tippah County left with goals, ideas and a flow of civic adrenaline.
The Aberdeen team will use its $3,000 to help enlarge the stage of the historic Elgin Theater, and in so doing, strengthen its downtown; Bruce, similarly, will use its money toward the goal of surveying downtown merchants and attracting at least one new business during the next six months; Ruckersville residents are drawn to a community center and church in a rural residential area northeast of Ripley off Mississippi Highway 15; the predominantly African-American community plans to build a fitness walking track for all to use.
The three projects seeded last week may seem insignificant in some larger towns and communities with rapidly growing populations and expanding economic bases. Initiatives like the Community Leadership Program, in its fourth year, put community situations in perspective: changing demographics, economies, and residential patterns. It takes into account the importance of place and the potential to regain momentum and exceed expectations. ARC officials, led by Executive Director Mable Murphree, also pledged "hands on" physical labor to help all three communities.
There's little reason to doubt that all three Northeast Mississippi communities will have reached their goal when they report to ARC and one another at the beginning of 2002.
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