Golden LEAF targets Northampton

Published 8:55 am Friday, August 14, 2009

JACKSON — The generosity of the people, wide open farmlands, faith-based communities, Lake Gaston and potential and motivation for opportunity are just a few of the many assets Northampton County has to offer.

On Tuesday evening, a crowd of citizens and community leaders gathered to begin the process of helping the quality of life in their community.

The list of assets along with a list of challenges in the county was created during the second meeting between the local group and representatives from the Golden LEAF Foundation.

The Rocky Mount-based non-profit is looking to invest up to $2 million in non-competitive funds into the county through their Community Assistance Initiative.

Last month, Golden LEAF held their first meeting in the county to brief the public on the organization’s process and what types of projects would be approved.

Projects that would be approved include 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.

At the most recent meeting, Project Facilitator Amy Nagle and Program Officer Courtney Mills got the group thinking about what they love most about the county and the challenges.

“We want to help make a change in Northampton County,” said Mills, reviewing the process with a crowd of about 30. “We want to talk about what we need in Northampton County. We’ll take a vote…some things may fall off the table, but we hope you won’t go away because of that.”

Nagle reminded the audience of the ground rules of the meeting and then stressed that in the earlier meetings no projects would be discussed.

“Try to think of it as a funnel,” she said referring to a sketched drawing of the process.

Nagle said the group wanted to touch on issue areas and challenges the county faces, then narrow down those issues and come up with ways to solve those problems. Then, Nagle said, the group would be ready to discuss specific projects.

Nagle then had everyone introduce themselves and give her something they love about the county. Many aspects were brought up from the open spaces of farmland to the county’s people and churches as well as the volunteer culture that was present. Individuals also spoke about the potential the county had in economic development and with their youth.

Nagle and the audience then drafted a list of challenges the county needs to overcome. At the top of the list, citizens noted the vastness of the county and it’s shape.

“People on the Lake are disconnected to those on the eastern portion of the county,” one person said.

Other challenges noted were:

Emergency response and access to health care

Lack of opportunities for young people

The need for technology

Job/trade training and new skills

Decent and affordable housing

Access to higher education

Need more revenue/personal income

Positive reinforcement for young people/recreation

Downtown revitalization

High poverty rate

Space to operate and create business

School system improvements


After penning approximately four pages of challenges, Nagle then had the group move on to categorizing those into “bigger buckets.”

In the end, seven overall categories were recorded, including jobs/economic development, transportation, education, healthcare, emergency services, housing and community services.

Nagle said at the next meeting the group will talk about those categories and break up into smaller groups to discuss the issues.

“If you know someone who should be here, who you don’t see here tonight, help us spread the word,” said Mills.

The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, September 15 at the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center.

Golden LEAF 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.