County alliance holds community meeting

Published 3:26 pm Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Pearl River County Alliance, in conjunction with the Gulf Coast Recovery Transformation Project, hosted a community meeting Tuesday night to discuss possible upcoming projects in the county to help families and individuals who still may be suffering from effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Tommy Goode, coordinator of GCRTP and a member of the Alliance, said the meeting was a way to coordinate and network among different resources within the county to provide help to those in need.

“While families are struggling to survive, they don’t necessarily see organizational meetings as crucial to that survival… People’s response (to these meetings) has to do with a sense of connectedness or affinity to the issue,” Goode said.

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Goode asked Vera Beech, principal of Nicholson Elementary School, and Pam Cross, director of Life Resource Center, to speak to the group about the importance of organizing support within the community.

Beech said she currently knows of approximately 55 children in her school who are still living in some sort of FEMA travel trailer or mobile home.

“I could see those children in my mind today when we were talking about mental health in the schools,” Beech said, referring to a meeting earlier Tuesday. “We lost two students over the summer. This is what our students are faced wiith… They leave their families and we (the school) are their security.”

Beech said one of the most important ways people within the community could help at the school would be to donate time as a mentor.

“Lots of students have never been sat down and talked to. Being a mentor to these kids would be an easy, simple thing,” Beech said.

An individual interested in becoming a mentor at the school would need to contact the school and submit to a background check. The mentors volunteer their time when they are available, rather than working on a set schedule.

Beech also said students at the school still have need for clothing and uniforms, as well as other school supplies.

“We have 511 students in kindergarten through sixth grade…. Christmas is coming up, and I have a running list of needy children,” Beech said.

Cross said the Life Resource Center is a non-profit organization that is sponsored by the Child Abuse Education Council whose mission is to stop child abuse and neglect.

“We assess families to find out needs, then locate businesses and other resources within the community to meet those needs. We do a lot of anger management, parenting, child abuse prevention and coping classes. Since Katrina, the number of people we service has tripled,” Cross said.

Cross said a recent county-wide needs assessment revealed nearly 300 people who are in need of help rebuilding or repairing their homes, in addition to 700 open cases the center already had. Cross said one of the problems faced with helping these people is not enough labor to help with the construction.

“I don’t think a lot of people are aware of the situation. We have a large population of people who do not have the financial means to recover,” Cross said. “We have families who don’t have anywhere to live, who are living in cars. We are still seeing families living in hotelss because of the lack of affordable housing or because they are so stressed they have not even thought to look for other housing… There is coming an end to the funds, and the concern is that there are families still in need.”

Picayune City Council member Leavern Guy also spoke about the need to network between groups in the community.

“Our challenge has always been unity, and trying to find ways to unify not necessarily resources but philosophy and commitment to move forward ass a county. We have always defined ourselves as Picayune and then Pearl River County. We are interconnected, and if we understand that, then we will move forward. Everyone has the desire for better neighborhoods and schools. We need to do it together. We have wasted a lot of years in our divisions amongst each other, and we have started to do that again. We had come together at one point, but are getting away from it again. We’ve got to have good school systems and safe communities, and we have to work together to get them,” Guy said.

Goode said that one of the things the RALLY foundation, who is part of the GCRTP, is doing for the Alliance is putting community assets in a list and mapping their location on its website,

Goode also said that the RAND Gulf States Policies Institute Collaborative, which is a partner with the GCRTP and the Alliance, is working on obtaining a study grant for the area.

“Should they get the study grant funded, maybe we would have one or more community and school-based projects in which we could bring in people to reserach how families can begin to recover from Katrina,” Goode said.

The next meeting of the Alliance will be held at the World Vision office at 1203 Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard in Picayune on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007. Anyone wanting more information about the Alliance, the GCRTP, or World Vision can contact Goode at 601-798-9992.