Intern Perspective: Golden LEAF funding helps rural communities thrive

Intern Perspective: Golden LEAF funding helps rural communities thrive

March 10, 2022

My name is Brooksie Lawson, and I am both a Golden LEAF Scholar and an intern with the External Affairs division for the Golden LEAF Foundation. My internship began in November 2021.

On February 25, I had the opportunity to tour some of the Golden LEAF-funded projects in the Southeast Prosperity Zone and learn more about Golden LEAF’s work on the Community-Based Grants Initiative.

Our first stop was the Wayne County Executive Jetport. In 2019, the Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors awarded the county $200,000 to construct a waterline that would serve the jetport as part of a larger project of adding hangars at the jetport.

Brandon Gray, Executive Director of the Wayne County Executive Jetport, gave us a tour of the facility. I learned on the tour that getting funding for the waterline was a crucial part of the project. There were certain flow requirements that needed to be met, in addition to the need for the extension of the potable water supply. He explained how the jetport had partnerships with Wayne Community College’s Aviation Program as well as MIL2ATP, a flight training program that trains former members of the military to become commercial pilots.

It was a foggy morning, so I didn’t think it was worth asking if I could go for a ride in one of the planes, but I did tell Brandon that I’d be back someday to work on getting my pilot’s license!

After leaving Wayne County, we made a stop at Lenoir Cooperative Extension to visit with Tammy Kelly, County Extension Director. I was not very familiar with what Cooperative Extension was before my visit. Tammy provided information about the different departments in Cooperative Extension, including 4-H Youth Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Family and Consumer Sciences.

The original Lenoir Cooperative Extension facility was flooded three times over the course of twenty years. The flooding that occurred during Hurricane Matthew resulted in waters that were as high as most office desks, and the water remained for about a week, which resulted in severe water damage. Rather than renovating the original building, the county decided to demolish, elevate the site, and rebuild a new facility well above the floodplain. In 2017, Lenoir County was awarded $1,406,700 in funding as part of the Disaster Recovery Grant Program in order to assist with the construction of the new Cooperative Extension facility.

By Brooksie Lawson, Intern

The new facility sits atop an elevated lot that Tammy referred to as “the only mountain in Lenoir County.” This has helped prevent the risk of future flooding. Now, nearly three and a half years and after Hurricane Florence flooded the county, the current Lenoir Cooperative Extension facility continues to thrive and serve its community.

In the middle of our site visits, we stopped for a Community-Based Grants Initiative roundtable lunch in Jones County. Several county officials attended in addition to the Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton and Director of External Affairs Kasey Ginsberg. This was a really unique opportunity for me. I was able to watch these leaders within the county collaborate and discuss potential projects that would bring economic growth and success to these communities.

The last stop of the day was in Craven County to visit Dawn Baldwin Gibson of Peletah Ministries. She discussed the branch of their ministry Genesis 457, which was created after Hurricane Irene hit the area in 2013. The goal of Genesis 457 was to help the communities in Craven, Jones, and Pamlico counties with long-term recovery needs after natural disasters.

By Brooksie Lawson, Intern

Hurricane Florence had an extreme impact on New Bern and the surrounding communities, leaving people without basic necessities. The Golden LEAF Board awarded Genesis 457 $449,953 in Hurricane Florence Disaster Relief Program funding to support direct assistance to survivors including food, water, replacement of personal property, rental assistance, utilities assistance, and home repair as well as two part-time case managers and other administrative expenses. Dawn shared that Genesis 457 was able to assist over 450 families through Golden LEAF’s funding.

Something I found to be quite impactful was the point Dawn made about how she came to realize how necessary stable housing was. It wasn’t too long after many of these families got back into their homes that the pandemic hit, which meant they had to stay at home. She said that those who were in stable housing have handled the pandemic much better than those who did not have stable housing.

It was evident throughout our visit with Dawn and the other staff at Peletah Ministries that they went above and beyond for those who came to them for assistance following Hurricane Florence. They told the story of one lady who came to them in need of housing but was also struggling with some mental health issues. They not only helped her find stable housing, but they also went with her to find access to the help that she needed. I realized that if people’s physical needs are not being met, then it is very unlikely that their mental and emotional needs were being met. Those working for Genesis 457 during the time following Hurricane Florence were dedicated to helping those who came to them on every level possible, and Golden LEAF funding helped make that possible.

Both the site visits and the roundtable lunch allowed me to see what Golden LEAF is doing in rural communities, much like the one I’m from in Surry County. We need resources like the Golden LEAF Foundation to help provide the funding to make these programs possible.

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