Groups work together to address poverty

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 30, 2010

NATCHEZ — The poverty rates in the Mississippi-Louisiana delta are comparable to third world countries.

The leadership at Delta Regional Community Development Corporation and The Phoenix Project: Community Development Foundation decided they need to help combat poverty, and asked representatives of state leaders to attend a meeting at the Alcorn State University Natchez Campus.

In a slideshow presentation, Delta Regional Chairman Emerson Slain said even Adams County is not doing well.

Slain said Adams County was the diamond of the Miss-Lou with a poverty rate among individuals at 31 percent.

“Over a third of the people in this area are living at or below the poverty line,” Slain said. These poverty numbers were done 10 years ago, and we have had an economic downturn since then.

“To be conservative, you could probably add five points to this and get a realistic number, which would put Wilkinson County over 40 percent.”

Phoenix Project Executive Director Walter Huston said their biggest concern was combating education, or the lack thereof, in the eight county or parish area.

“We live in communities where education is not a priority,” Huston said. “You can’t expect children to excel when families don’t have education and don’t expect their children to have it.”

Another problem Huston noted, is that people in the area don’t use technology to its fullest.

“We are going to have to use technology to the nth degree,” he said. “We don’t know how to use it to its fullest and it is something they are doing everywhere else.”

Huston said in New Orleans, a school counselor taught students how to use eBay, and the students who couldn’t get summer jobs, learned buying and selling on eBay could make them money.

“You can start a business here online and have commerce with anybody in the world,” Huston said. “You don’t have to leave the area to get a job after you become educated.”

Slain and Huston said they have ideas, they just need time and money to accomplish them.

“In two years, we are going to talk about how bad it used to be here,” Huston said. “That is how optimistic I am here.

“This is not just a pie in the sky deal, we have resources we can piggyback on to create businesses.”

Representatives for Sen. Mary L. Landrieu and Congressman Gregg Harper attended the meeting, along with the Mayor Rydell Turner of Clayton.

Landrieu Regional Manager Leslie M. Foster said education was the key to preventing poverty.

“Once people see that there is a better life out there they can reach for it,” Foster said. “It is our job to make sure they have all of the tools to get there.”

Landrieu Deputy State Director Tari Bradford said collaboration and tackling the biggest problem first could lead to success.

“Let’s not reinvent the wheel — lets make it turn,” Bradford said. “If there is a study that worked in Timbuktu. Let’s see if it can work here.

“We need to quit applying for funding separately — when groups form bonds and put their resources together there is no limit to the things that can happen.”

The Delta Regional Development project aims to aid people in East Carol, Madison, Tensas and Concordia parishes and Jefferson, Wilkinson, Claiborne and Adams counties.