Delta Business Journal praises Community Foundation for building basics for economic development

Commentary by Scott Coopwood

Photo by Cherry Mathis

Every other day it seems as though some new entity pops up and is “helping the Delta.”

As I have written several times in this column, some organizations are truly trying to help the Delta move in a positive direction while some are here just to help themselves make money “studying the Delta” and there are more of these than the ones who are truly trying to help!

But, there are two or three very notable entities that are here for the good of this region and I have the good fortune to serve on one, Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi. We have featured articles in our Delta Business Journal on the many things Community Foundation is involved in and we’ll continue to do so.

Overseen by my good friend, Tom Pittman, their tagline and mission statement is one of the best I have seen: Connecting People Who Care With Causes That Matter. Community Foundation covers about half of the Delta and I’m proud other Deltans serve on the board with me such as Lucy Janoush of Cleveland, Tom Gresham of Indianola, Frank Mitchener of Sumner, Joe Azar from Greenville and Batesville, Manuel Killebrew from Marks, Betty Jo Dulaney from Tunica, Campbell Melton from Tunica, and Josphine Rhymes from Clarksdale. Other board members are from the Southaven and Hernando areas.

The Community Foundation is for people who want to live in a better place but don’t want to move. It connects these people who care about their community with causes that matter to its quality of life.

Through the generosity of more than 4,000 donors, the Community Foundation has established endowments for Teach For America-Delta region, early childhood education, B.B. King Museum, DeSoto Arts Council and 135 more charitable causes including churches and schools. The Community Foundation even leveraged local donations with major grants from the Maddox Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to create a $2 million endowment for the Future of Northwest Mississippi. These endowments are permanent charitable assets to address the issues that bedevil our region.

The future envisioned by the foundation emphasizes children and young people becoming educated and healthy so that they can become productive adults who contribute to their community’s quality of life. The Community Foundation funds an “old school” multi-county “book mobile” that takes resources and mentoring to dozens of child care centers and a leading-edge online personal finance course that helps high school students learn to manage their resources effectively. The foundation has made grants to 400 charitable organizations in the Delta including after-school and summer programs that groom at-risk students for college and for community health assessments that may result in significant new programs as in Tallahatchie County’s new wellness center and program.

Rebuilding of structures and spirits is on the move.
Everything starts with donors who choose to give through the Community Foundation. The foundation responds to donor wishes and acts as a watchdog on the nonprofits that receive grants. Sometimes the foundation acts as a “talent scout” to find nonprofits doing effective work in line with donors’ interests. The goal is that by working together, we all live in a better place.

The Community Foundation does not do economic development work directly. Rather it works on the prerequisite for economic development, and that is community development. Our region needs a better educated and healthier workforce to attract and expand productive businesses. At the same time, that kind of improved workforce will reduce our costs for imprisonment, welfare and other drags on our economy. It’s a secret the Tupelo region discovered decades ago when it named its economic development organization the Community Development Foundation.

There’s only one fundraiser for Community Foundation—the annual Crystal Ball gala. At the gala, many have been honored such as Morgan Freeman, Dr. Mary Ellen Bouldin, B. B. King, Clear Channel, ceo and brother of Tom, Bob Pittman, and Archie and Olivia Manning. The next gala will take place, Jan. 17, 2015 and Community Foundation will honor five-time Grammy winner Marty Stuart, the native Mississippian who conceived and was instrumental in creating our state’s Country Music Trail. It’s a guaranteed good time, mixing and mingling with 1,000 community leaders from Northwest Mississippi.

Community Foundation is making some excellent progress in the Mississippi Delta.