‘Golden’ start in Northampton

Published 7:25 pm Saturday, July 25, 2009

JACKSON—It’s a “golden” opportunity.

On Tuesday, an array of Northampton County community members and leaders gathered at the Cultural and Wellness Center to learn more about the Golden LEAF Foundation and how the non-competitive $2 million in approximate funds can be used to the county’s advantage.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach, Vice President of Programs/Community Assistance and Outreach Patricia Cabe and Consultant Amy Nagle joined the crowd to explain the process of the organization’s Community Assistance Initiative.

Among those in attendance were all five county commissioners, town mayors and council members, school officials and Representative Michael H. Wray (D-27th).

The Golden Leaf Foundation, based in Rocky Mount, was set up to replace the wealth that was lost when tobacco farming began to recede and cigarette manufacturers began to decline. North Carolina’s share of the Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers funds the non-profit organization which has a goal to help improve the economic conditions of tobacco-dependant and economically distressed counties (Tier I) like Northampton.

Gerlauch said one of the foundation’s objectives is placing a “boot” in Northampton County.

“One of the major things we want to get out of here is a better relationship between you all and our foundation,” he said. “What we want is a sustainable relationship. We don’t want to give $2 million away and never see ya’ll again.”

Both Gerlach and Cabe explained that those that are eligible to apply for funds are non-profit organizations (501c3) and governmental agencies that serve the citizens of the county. Uses of the funds must be charitable with no private inurement. Cabe explained the foundation typically does not make grants for the purchase of land or buildings or to reimburse for prior expenditures.

“When you make recommendations to us keep in mind that we have to be sensitive to the fundamental nature of what the foundation is supposed to do, how do we create economic opportunity in Northampton County,” he said.

Gerlach said that opportunity can be created through jobs, building the knowledge and skills of the county’s people and also building infrastructure to attract businesses.

The community can also apply for other grants the organization offers. Gerlach said currently there is an open grants program, economic catalyst cycle, investments in the community college to build up training programs, aerospace training and others.

Cabe went over the objectives, criteria and ground rules for the Community Assistance Initiative process.

First up, Cabe spoke about identifying and reaching consensus on the priority issues as well as pin pointing the results the community wants. This will be accomplished with a series of meetings with community members and leaders.

“What do we want to ‘move the needle’ on? What are our measures of success?” she said.

Upon narrowing down those issues, Golden Leaf would then reply with feedback and guidance.

Establishing a process/criteria for prioritizing projects that have the most potential for achieving those desired results will be the next step.

Priority project/applicants then move on to meeting with the Golden LEAF Board of Representatives and work on proposal preparation. The project(s) need to be supported with a compelling case. The Board will then make funding decisions and then a check will be presented.

Cabe noted what kind of projects the organization would be willing to fund, which includes those that will meet an identified issue or need in the county, help communities in overcoming barriers to economic transition and progress, will leverage previous community planning processes and build on their results and findings, are sustainable, will impact and provide return on the investment and have support from the participants across the county.

Both Gerlach and Cabe cautioned the crowd that projects are not a popularity competition.

“We’re not to be pursued if you have a lot of people with you,” Gerlach said.

“It’s not about a popularity contest,” Cabe said. “Our board has turned projects down that have come through this process. What you want is all of the money. You don’t want projects turned down.”

For the upcoming meetings, Cabe laid out ground rules for discussion asking for full participation and discussion. She said concerns should be raised and debating is OK, but to keep it civil.

Cabe said attendance is key in order to avoid “backtracking.”

How quickly the process happens, both Cabe and Gerlach said, is up to the group. There will be no discussion of projects until key issues are identified.

“We really want to move at the pace you need us to,” said Cabe. “We don’t want to hold meetings for the sake meetings. We want to move the discussion forward.”

Gerlach said he was looking forward to Northampton County through the Community Assistance Initiative process.

“I know a lot of you here, I know what type of vision you have and I know what kind of leadership you exert,” said Gerlach. “And I look forward to working with you.”

The crowd was asked to think of key and priority issues for the next meeting which is scheduled for August 11 at 6 p.m at the Cultural and Wellness Center.