Other figures help put town on national list

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 10, 2001

FAYETTE, Miss. – Life-long Fayette resident Brenda Buck is not surprised at her hometown’s ranking among U.S. cities with the highest per capita percentage of single-mother families.

She comes face to face with that reality every day in her work. &uot;Many of the clients we deal with daily are single moms,&uot; said Buck, head of the Center for Rural Life and Economic Development at Alcorn State University in Lorman.

&uot;We’ve been working with them in our self-help housing program; these are low-income or very low-income families,&uot; she said.

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Fayette, with 25.9 percent of its households headed by single mothers, ranked 10th in the list released by the Associated Press for Monday publication. It was one of eight Mississippi towns among the top 20 included in the survey based on 2000 Census statistics.

The statistics are based on real families, Buck said, and the potential for problems is obvious. Having one instead of the traditional two parents puts a strain on the family in a town suffering double-digit unemployment and facing the loss of its last industry.

&uot;Sometimes the mothers have to travel 30 to 50 miles to work. This filters down through the whole family. It affects the children,&uot; she said. &uot;But I used to say single-parent kids couldn’t make it; that is not always true. Some of them get very strong and independent as a result of this.&uot;

Dr. Samuel White, also an Alcorn employee and a resident of Fayette, agrees. &uot;We have to strengthen the families. Even though many of them are female-headed, those families do not have to be dysfunctional.&uot;

White, a former chancery clerk in Jefferson County, said many small towns in America with very meager economic bases, face the same problems as Fayette. A big challenge for those communities is to break the cycle of dependency on welfare programs. &uot;Unfortunately this is a culture that breeds that kind of dependency.&uot;

Buck sees many opportunities for the community to address family issues. &uot;We have day care but not for the older children. We do not have a community center. We need to provide for these young people, give them a safe haven and someone they can go to and trust.&uot;

White said that programs to lead children out of the cycles of dependency and hopelessness should begin not at the junior high level, as many now do, but at the kindergarten level. However, with the Fayette tax base hardly able to provide basic city services, he said, the chances are small that the town could provide meaningful programs for children.

&uot;Programs for children are very expensive. But what could help Fayette is a Boys and Girls Club. Maybe with the attorney general’s initiative in this area, that’s something we could seek,&uot; White said, referring to Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore’s recent efforts to establish dozens more of the clubs in the state.

&uot;We should emphasize development of the entrepreneurial spirit, helping small businesses and female-owned businesses to grow,&uot; White said. &uot;These may lead us out of the slump.&uot;

Leadership from the university is one bright spot for Fayette and other communities in Southwest Mississippi, Buck said, quoting Alcorn’s President Clinton Bristow as saying the university is only as great as the communities around it.

&uot;Our slogan is ‘People without a vision will perish,’&uot; Buck said. &uot;I’ve been in this position for about a year and mostly I’ve just been trying to bring the community together.&uot;

With the closing earlier this month of Fayette Enterprises, 68 more jobs are gone. &uot;Those were mostly males in those jobs. Now they will have to find work somewhere else,&uot; Buck said.

Through the university’s nonprofit Traceway Community Development Corporation, Buck is assisting Jefferson and Claiborne counties with providing upgraded housing for families such as those headed by single moms.

&uot;The basic focus of Traceway is to improve housing, to get these families off the rental roles and into home ownership,&uot; she said.

Some families are second- and third-generation apartment dwellers. &uot;It’s a big improvement to get them into their own homes.&uot;

Prior to her position as director of the rural life center, she worked in the university’s program assisting entrepreneurs and small business owners. She has seen ups and downs in the town’s economic climate.

Buck laments the changes she has seen in Fayette since her childhood. She has watched stores close and jobs continue to dwindle. But she continues to have hope for the town’s future.

&uot;We can talk, talk, talk; but it will take time and it will take all of us working together to make things better. We have to think about our potential and build on that.&uot;