Jefferson County gets $400,000 grant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2006

FAYETTE &8212; A grant for Jefferson County could help kill two birds with one stone.

The $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will fund a program to train and employ high school dropouts to build housing for low-income families.

&8220;It&8217;s a tremendous opportunity to do some good things in our community,&8221; said Sherley Wyatt, coordinator of Jefferson County Economic Development, which applied for the grant last year.

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Wyatt hopes the Jefferson YouthBuild program will be able to get under way in July, with 20 participants ranging in age from 17 to 24. They will be able to earn their GED in the program, while also learning construction and other job skills.

In the program, participants will build high-quality, energy efficient housing to create homeownership opportunities for low-income families. They will also learn how to do home repair for low-income and elderly residents and participate in community beautification activities.

Wyatt said the county is especially grateful to Sen. Thad Cochran and Reps. Bennie Thompson and Chuck Middleton for their help securing the funds.

The YouthBuild program is just one step in what Jefferson County officials hope will be a revitalization for the community, Wyatt said.

Economic development officials and county supervisors have partnered with Alcorn State University, local educators and the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. The group has also worked with Fayette Mayor Rogers King, city council members, the Southwest Development Corporation and Southwest Mississippi Mental Health.

&8220;We have been fortunate to have some assistance from the Stennis Institute to put together a strategic plan,&8221; Wyatt said.

Jefferson County was the only one in Mississippi to receive a grant for the YouthBuild program, which is a national program designed to help low-income youth rebuild their communities.

The U.S. Census Bureau identifies Jefferson County as having the largest percentage of black population in the nation and the lowest per capita income in Mississippi, Wyatt said.

&8220;Challenges are not new to us; unfortunately, in recent history, things have not been very good for our economy &8212; but we intend to change that,&8221; Wyatt said.