ByIvye L. Allen
The Foundation for the Mid South (the Foundation) is a regional foundation serving Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Founded 28 years ago, the Foundation has developed a history and reputation for attracting resources (financial, intellectual and human capital) to support the region. Our partners often include a cross section of voices and perspectives from individuals and nonprofit, public and corporate entities. Our mission is to invest in people and strategies that promote racial, social and economic equity in four priorities—education, health and wellness, community development, and wealth building. An ongoing critical strategy is to engage those impacted in solution identification that allows them to grow and prosper. Strengthening capacities of partners and the people they serve to address challenges is essential to community and individual success.
Using the lens of comprehensive community change is quite often the way that we work. To move a community and its residents forward, leaders must consider multiple strategies and approaches to address changed outcomes. Although the execution of a plan usually has a lead strategy, there are often multiple strategies implemented to achieve intended outcomes. The Foundation consistently partners with local teams to achieve community and individual goals. Critical in our thinking and approach is the role of system and policy change. For sustained change to take place, we believe that institutionalization of policies and practices is essential. In the Foundation’s work, that might include more effective professional development efforts for teachers or job training and occupational skill development.
Throughout the Foundation’s history, we have found that residents, as well as corporate and municipal leaders, must have a vision and the willingness to work collaboratively to bring about sustained change. Good ideas come from many perspectives. Moreover, it is important to utilize current talent while also strengthening the skills and knowledge of those who want to enhance their abilities to make a difference. Helping everyone expand their knowledge and exposure strengthens their capacity to identify and develop effective solutions. Recognizing that financial resources influence outcomes, it is critical to leverage and pool those resources to reach intended goals.
There is a national focus on adult education and skills training to address the employment gap across all sectors. One of the greatest sources of untapped human capital includes those with high school diplomas or less and limited work readiness skills. The Foundation supports continuous and diverse learning opportunities that will ensure more of these adults have the requisite skills and capacities to meet current and future employment needs. We partner with public and private entities—state agencies, higher education institutions, employers, nonprofit organizations—to address work readiness.
The Foundation is the leading partner in the Mississippi Delta Workforce Funding Collaborative (the Collaborative); nearly $4 million in pooled and aligned funds have been invested in workforce development efforts. To date, the Collaborative has built two industrial partnerships (health care and manufacturing), served over 2,500 low-income/low-skill individuals, enrolled nearly 1,000 in postsecondary training, and placed approximately 600 unique job seekers into employment. The Electrical Utility Lineman Trainee program has prepared and placed graduates in both multinational and small local cooperative utilities (Figure 1). The profession pays some of the higher wages in the region, with many reporting earning over $100,000 annually. Linemen have been deployed by their companies to assist communities after natural disasters. We were proud to support the groundbreaking for a new training facility on the Mississippi Delta Community College campus (Figure 2).
In addition, the Collaborative was one of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions’ most successful transportation, distribution and logistics (TDL) sector initiatives. This effort, supported by Walmart Inc., has been instrumental in introducing more people of color, and particularly women, into this career option. Our partnership with Hinds Community College and KLLM Transportation Services is addressing the demand for more certified TDL drivers, resulting in employment and entrepreneurial opportunities (Figure 3).
Our goal is to continue focusing on in-demand sectors while increasing awareness of barriers to long-term, generational community wealth-building strategies. Moreover, the Foundation will continue investments to strengthen K-12, postsecondary and workforce systems to better help underserved populations throughout the Mid South.
The Foundation recognizes the importance of returning citizens’ productivity to their communities. As a result, we produced comprehensive statewide manuals and websites detailing resources by county and parish for Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi (Figure 4). The work was developed through various partnerships, including the Mississippi Re-entry Council and Greater New Orleans Foundation. It includes county, state and federal information ranging from mental health assistance to workforce training opportunities. The manual and online web tool provide important information to returning citizens and service providers to ensure success and rapid reattachment to the workforce and their community.
As we continue our work of improving lives by expanding knowledge, we realize that there is still much to do. The Foundation is committed to working with existing partners and building new relationships with many sectors to provide maximum opportunities and benefits to all Mid Southerners.
For more information on the Foundation and our work, please visit www.fndmidsouth.org.