The thought process behind forming Grenada Community Foundation (www.GrenadaCF.org) was a good one, but with no natural source of funds and little understanding in the community of what such an entity was for, and why they should support it, it was a tough road to make Grenada Community Foundation useful. The idea was to create an apolitical forum for community members to work together to define and address the barriers to Grenada’s progress. Sounds lofty, and laudable, but who gave me the credibility to mobilize people and assets?
It seemed logical that the leading families of the area would be interested in coming together to provide three year funding commitments to get this thing going. Wrong. So Coley and I funded it for the first few years. Slowly, we built a small but hardy band of volunteers who worked hard to get things done.
Our first effort was to consider ways to support employment through creating our open jobs and preparing people to fill them. Having learned a bit about a concept called economic gardening, I assembled a group to travel to Littleton, CO, the city that coined the term. Pablo Diaz had not yet started his new job in Grenada but took time off from his old job to join us. Two city councilmen, the newspaper publisher, a member of the board of supervisors, the leaders of Holmes Community College, and several more traveled to Littleton at the kind invitation of the City of Littleton to spend a day looking at how, in the wake of the loss of a major employer, they had doubled jobs in 10 years while giving no tax incentives.
Chris Gibbons and his team had codified the steps that were effective in growing what the Lowe Foundation called Stage 2 entrepreneurial companies: those with 10-99 employees. While some would fail, some would take off and grow exponentially. Chris identified 3 themes: providing market research assets that such companies could use to level the playing field with big companies, helping such companies network with prospective role models, suppliers, and customers, and building an infrastructure that was appealing to creative people, on the theory that attracting creative people equals building a pool of prospective entrepreneurial leaders.
Back in Grenada we started a program to provide similar support to our small companies (http://www.grenadameansbusiness.com/economic-gardening), and with Pablo started a recurring class for would be entrepreneurs: Operation Jumpstart, which teaches basic business skills and helps its students craft their business plan. Local business people serve as mentors, and a business plan competition is held at the end, with a money prize to the winner. Today, we have a number of businesses that were started by OJS graduates. We also started thinking about how to work with artists, and began art contests for children and other programs that brought attention to our artists.
We also created a program for the unemployed called Building Blocks for Employability. Our manufacturers were frustrated about not finding the skills they wanted, so we convened a discussion with the workforce team at Holmes, as a result they revised their employability curriculum. We then worked with the WINs job center to be sure that applicants to that were screened for manufacturing interest, and offered a stipend to help pay carfare and childcare to those who completed the course. What happened to those that did not meet the screening criteria? Our amazing Grenada League for Adult Education was there to snap many of them up, and we realized that people seeking their GEDs were in serious need of help to pay the test fees. Thus was born the GED Scholarships.
Grenada Gives 365
Next we turned to the high school graduation rate. School administrators made one thing very clear: they could do a great deal with their students, but much of the difficulty related to poor developmental support early in the children’s lives. Thus those that entered school well prepared flourished, and those not prepared to learn did not, and eventually became so frustrated they quit. So we turned to early childhood development, which has been a long time focus of a Washington based think tank I served as trustee: Committee for Economic Development. With assistance from their Kellogg Foundation grant, we assembled every organization involved in early childhood education in Grenada to present what they did to the Education Roundtable we had formed.
The result? Working with the Mississippi State Extension Service and the Early Years Network of technical support providers, we created the Grenada Early Learning Advantage Center. The Center offered two major services: a lending library of books, toys, and games for children 0-5 was available for any family to borrow and return at no charge. Technical support and training resources were also provided for the 15 early childhood development centers, aka the day cares, in Grenada, and eventually for the 9 surrounding counties.
I also had gotten involved in Learning Labs, organized by Rhea Williams Bishop of the MS Center of Education Innovation, which met monthly to discuss early learning initiatives. Through that set of connections, we helped secure the very controversial package of legislation that invested public funds in pre K activities for the first time. The bill that was ultimately passed, following a representative by representative campaign, contemplated the formation of early childhood development collaboratives including school districts, Head Start, private early learning centers, and non profits such as Grenada Community Foundation.
Today, Grenada has a thriving collaborative, and 60% of 4 year olds in the entire county are now in pre K programs. Teachers report an astounding improvement in early reading and school success in the first few years. We hope this will translate over time into an increase in overall success in life; meanwhile, the enormous efforts of the Grenada School District are paying off: graduation rates not quite 10 years after the site consultant observed a 40% graduation rate are now up into the mid 80’s.
In another effort to engage the community in self help, in 2011 Grenada Community Foundation started the Grenada Farmers Market. One of only a few in the state certified by USDA, Grenada Farmers Market has just completed its 6th season and has become an institution in Grenada, attracting vendors and purchasers of fresh produce, home made preserves and baked goods from Grenada and surrounding counties. The next challenge: building a shade structure and expanding its hours and length of season. (We have video clips on GFM and a logo)
Arts & Entertainment
Our next caper: helping start the Grenada Afterglow Film Festival (GAFF; www.GrenadaAfterglow.com) in 2014. Two sisters, 17 and 14 when GAFF organizing began, were deeply involved in film, having placed as filmmakers in several national competitions, were interested in starting a film festival. Our role: to ask them what was stopping them, help them by offering spaces for screening and other events, and making GAFF a committee of the Grenada Community Foundation. The results have been stunning, as we received over 300 entries from 63 countries the first year, over 700 the second…and have been recognized as among the top 5% of Film Festivals by contestants. Katrina and Isabella Kinder, Executive Producers and Festival Directors, have achieved broad local, regional, and national recognition as they continue to build on the theme of 30 minutes and under, feel good, family friendly films. They see GAFF as a multimedia event, with workshops and new experiences inside and outside of the screening room. GAFF IV is October 7&8. Be there!
Restoring Downtown Grenada
In 2016, the most recent initiative began, with the lofty and impossible to say name Grenada Downtown Innovation District Association, yet another committee of Grenada Community Foundation. Our goal: to reinvent Grenada’s Downtown Historic District to offer wonderful experiences to locals and tourists alike. We envision a rich mixture of arts and music venues, varied food and beverage opportunities, offices and artists side by side, and a variety of attractive residential housing options.
Its Steering Committee meets every two weeks for two hours, and have achieved a number of objectives from power washing the streets to removing, replacing, and maintaining 25 dead trees around the Square. We arranged the first projection mapping light show in the state last Christmas, are holding a member and guest tasting of Biltmore wines, and our capstone fundraiser, the Grenada Renaissance New Year’s Eve Ball. Our first Downtown Tour in May, 2017, attracted 120 people who turned out in spite if the cold and rainy weather, and the next one, touring 10 more buildings and businesses, will be held October 5.
Thirty of our beautiful 19C commercial row buildings have changed hands in the last two years, and we have instituted improvement grant to help property owners fix their facades. Eighteen new and existing businesses have taken up residence downtown, and more are on the way. And today, we have an active board and fundraising process that is growing stronger as we anchor our efforts around downtown revitalization.
Jobs are at all time high, and our employers are growing. We have many hurdles to overcome, AND can see that we are making real progress