Poverty coalition hopes to help

Published 2:38 am Monday, November 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — Poverty is a problem many people associate with other countries and continents, not with their own backyard.

But in a rural area such as the Miss-Lou, poverty is a factor, and one local group is trying to fight it off.

The Lower Mississippi Delta Poverty Elimination Project, started by Ferriday resident and Delta Regional Chairman Emerson Slain and Phoenix Project Executive Director Walter Huston, is doing what it can to help area residents struggling with poverty.

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Huston said the organization will be looking to benefit areas in both states in the Miss-Lou.

“We are focused on four counties in Mississippi and four parishes in Louisiana,” he said. “We are looking at why the unemployment rates in these eight districts are so high.”

High unemployment is something residents have been dealing with for a while, Huston said.

“We have a lack of manufacturing jobs and a reliance on agricultural jobs,” he said. “Most jobs that come in the area concentrate on a predominant labor base that doesn’t require a high educational level.”

Huston said in order for poverty to decrease, education must be a higher priority.

“Education hasn’t really been the main item that is pushed in these areas,” he said. “This has helped lead to a high poverty level.”

Huston said helping change the way schools are being run is one way the program is looking to make a change.

“In my opinion schools are conducting business as usual,” he said. “There have been almost no new programs involved in schools.”

Assisting the schools by bringing in other educators is one way to help solve the problem, Huston said.

“We are going to be working with the school districts,” he said. “We want to assist them by bringing in experts in education.”

One way these experts will help is through after school classes, Huston said.

“We want to offer this throughout the communities, not just the schools,” he said. “Every student who is having a problem in a subject can go after school for two or three hours. We are going to bring in people to work with them that have experience in that area.”

Huston said the classes will also be available for adults in the community.

“They will be offered in the afternoons and on Saturdays,” he said.

Huston said making education a top priority benefits the community in major ways.

“We don’t want the residents to have to get money from a government source to live,” he said. “We want to be able to assist the residents of these communities to upgrade their skill level so they can rise out of poverty themselves.”

Huston said that while education is their driving force, they also are going to be working on economic development and entrepreneurship, community development, community leadership, community appearance and family development and social community foundations.

Huston said funding the program is the only process left before it gets started.

“We are in the last stages of getting the program started,” he said. “We are looking to begin work within the first quarter of 2011.”