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Golden Leaf targets Bertie

WINDSOR – The Golden Leaf Foundation wants to help Bertie County.

On Wednesday night, they began the process of investing up to $2 million in one of North Carolina’s most economically distressed counties.

Golden Leaf Foundation Vice President Pat Cabe introduced the Community Assistance Initiative to interested parties in Bertie County during a meeting at the Bertie County Senior Center.

Cabe addressed a group that included Bertie County Commissioners Norman Cherry, Charles Smith and L.C. Hoggard as well as Windsor Mayor Bob Spivey, Askewville Mayor John Pierce and Aulander Mayor Larry Drew. Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb, Economic Development Director Steve Biggs and Vivian Saunders of the Bertie County Hive were also among those present.

Before introducing the Community Assistance Initiative, Cabe turned the floor over to Representative Annie W. Mobley (D-5th) who encouraged those in attendance to give Golden Leaf ideas for good projects.

“Think outside the box,” Mobley exhorted. “Don’t think about whatever you have always done.”

The Representative also said she felt Golden Leaf’s stop in Bertie County was overdue and encouraged the group to not limit themselves, but push for what was best for the county.

“If there is anything I can do along the way to make this a reality, I will,” she closed.

Cabe then talked about the Initiative which brought her to Bertie County.

“Our board, two years ago, looked at our cycles of grant-making and took out a map,” she said. “The board wanted to see where we had not written a check and there were nine counties that popped up as glaring blank spots.”

She said that while checks had not been written in certain counties, the foundation had helped in many instances.

“For instance, there have been 45 students from Bertie County that have gone to school on Golden Leaf scholarships,” she said.

The Golden Leaf board instructed the staff to go to those communities and find out what they needed and help them.

She said Bertie County, like the others who have gone before, would need to come to a consensus on what the key needs are and tell Golden Leaf what projects would meet those needs.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that consensus is not a perfect process,” she said. “While we know we won’t make everybody happy with this round, we want to remember this is not a one-shot deal. This is an on-going process and we hope to be back in about 18 months.”

Cabe gave a brief overview of the history of Golden Leaf and its mission. The Golden Leaf Foundation was created in 1999 to administer one half of North Carolina’s share of the master settlement agreement with cigarette manufacturers. It is a non-profit devoted to advancing the economic well-being of North Carolinians and to transforming its economy.

She also said the annual grant-making cycle is competitive. For example, the most recent cycle saw 338 projects requesting $160 million in funds compared to a $10 million budget.

“There are a lot of good proposals that go unfunded,” she said.

The Community Assistance Initiative is a way to help communities who have needs. The program will be brought to the 41 Tier One counties every two years, according to Cabe, to let the counties prioritize their own needs.

“What is it we want to change and what is the first issue on the front burner,” Cabe quizzed. “That’s what we have to discover here in Bertie County.”

The process began with Wednesday’s meeting and will continue September 9 when the group will discuss needs and try to reach consensus about the most pressing needs in the community.

After the needs are prioritized, the group will try to reach a consensus on projects that meet the highest priority.

Cabe also echoed Rep. Mobley’s remarks.

“Our board is not always looking for in-the-box projects,” she said. “Often those projects are funded through our standard grant cycle. The rules are different with this project. We want to listen to the communities.”

During the question and answer session, Lamb asked if the board had skipped projects on a county’s wish list before. Cabe said they had not, but they did reserve that right.

Cherry then asked if an on-going project that could use additional funding was eligible and Cabe said it was.

Saunders asked how closely the Foundation would monitor the process to make sure the entire county was heard from.

Cabe said it was important and asked that if there were those not at the meeting who could be part of the process that she be informed so they could be invited to the next meeting.

The group then agreed to meet again at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 9.