Foundation Provides Base of Progress for the Mid South

July 01, 1998

This is the second in a series of articles about foundations that are serving areas located in the Eighth District states.

The Foundation for the Mid South (FMS) grew from the efforts of the Mississippi Delta Region's leadership to bring positive, meaningful change to the impoverished area. Formed in 1990, the Foundation, located in Jackson, Miss., seeks to help the three states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi share resources and leadership across geographical, political and provincial boundaries.

FMS President George Penick says the Foundation, "encourages individuals, communities, governments and businesses to think beyond state boundaries and to consider themselves as part of a cohesive region where ideas and resources can be shared."

As a three-state community foundation, FMS holds a number of funds specifically developed to address this particular region's issues. FMS may be used as a vehicle for donors who wish to serve an area that has no community foundation or who wish to have an impact on the entire Mid South region. The Foundation also works in partnership with local community foundations in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi when donors want to establish funds to meet a specific community's needs.

The Foundation for the Mid South makes grants to build the capacity of individuals, organizations or communities; to change and improve regional policies; and to build philanthropy for the region. Its program strategy is centered on the realization that different organizations in the region are at different points in their development. Penick points out that the Foundation's staff "doesn't want to be the experts in the region but build organizations to be the experts."

Therefore, grants are made at three stages of development: (1) Emerging or Pre-development, (2) Organized or High Potential, and (3) Mature or Partner. Two grant cycles are held each year (June and December). A Program Advisory Committee, composed of a very diverse group of people from the region, uses its expertise to assess each proposal. It considers the degree to which each proposal fits the overall guidelines and priorities of the Foundation.

The FMS staff also considers and investigates proposals. Before a grant is made, the staff has first-hand knowledge of grant applicants through site visits or previous grantmaking experience. In addition, the proposal application and review process is structured to help the Foundation identify those organizations with strong organizational, program, policy and community-building potential.

The types of grants are determined by: the combination of grant resources available to the Foundation; the guidance of those who provide the funds; and the priorities of the FMS Program Advisory Committee. Grants are made within four program areas: Economic Development, Education, Families and Children, and Black Church.

Proposals can be submitted for any of the grants in the following categories:

  • Community development, planning or implementation grants to build capacity.
  • Development grants to build organizational and program capacity.
  • African-American faith-based grants to build the capacity of churches to undertake community and economic development activities.
  • Leadership development grants that build the capacity of leaders.

The Foundation for the Mid South is about "change, not charity." In a region characterized by low education, poor work skills, racial strife, historic segregation, rural isolation and overwhelming destitution, an influx of financial resources alone cannot revitalize the economy.

Understanding this, the Foundation has endeavored to build its economic development program around those opportunities and activities that will significantly spur economic growth in the Mid South, especially among people who traditionally have been excluded from the mainstream economy. The purpose of the program is to promote a healthy economy in which all people can participate.

FMS has invested resources in expanding the capacity of existing programs in the region and in developing new initiatives that complement and maximize the region's opportunities and strategies. In particular, the Foundation focuses a great deal on building partnerships and trying to stimulate collaborations that break long-standing traditional molds.

Examples of the Foundation's economic development activity can be seen in its investments in various community development credit unions to assist them in increasing their deposit base. To encourage asset development in the region, investments have also been made to establish Individual Development Accounts (see IDA article) where the Foundation's resources are used to match an individual's own savings, which may be used to purchase a home, open or expand a business or continue an education. The emphasis, according to Senior Program Manager Sherrie Pugh, is a strategic focus on asset development.

The Workforce Alliance is the Foundation's focus in the Education Program Area. The goal of the Workforce Alliance is to raise the skills of the Delta's labor pool to compete on a global level by: upgrading the current workforce and integrating the unemployed into the labor market through literacy and skills training; preparing students to enter the workforce by facilitating the transition from school to work; and providing post-secondary training.

The Workforce Alliance efforts currently are targeted to seven multicounty and multi-parish communities in the Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi Delta. Each community selected received a planning grant of $25,000 to begin its work, which involves an intensive nine-month training process and an evaluation of the respective community's economic status and potential. After successfully completing the planning phase, the community will submit a proposal and plan to receive an implementation grant of up to $400,000. Upon approval, the community will begin to implement its plan and form the partnerships needed to transform its workforce.

The Workforce Alliance is one part of the Delta Partnership, an initiative to revitalize the economy of the Delta. A second element is the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta (ECD), an independent organization spun off by FMS which provides capital and technical assistance to small- and medium-sized Delta businesses concentrating in Workforce Alliance communities. The third element, which is being managed by the ECD, is the Private Sector Initiative, an effort involving national business leaders and corporations to increase the demand both locally and nationally for Delta-produced goods and services.

The Families and Children Program Area promotes the coming together of people from all sectors of society who will invest their time and talent to develop opportunities for families and children to reach their full potential. Sara Sneed, Senior Program Manager, says the program "seeks collaboration to leverage the results of the Foundation's and community's work."

It is through this program that communities and organizations design youth and family initiatives that make the best use of the existing resources to build on for the future. In addition, help is available to create resources that increase the strength and stability of families, enhance the capacity of families to nurture children, and create developmental opportunities for children and youth.

The Foundation has been instrumental in developing the Mid South Family Alliance. The Alliance is the first regional network for the three states that involves nonprofits, faith-based organizations, schools, advocacy groups, etc., to look at how they can advocate more effectively on behalf of children, increase resources for child development, and develop leaders.

The Alliance is currently developing a plan for children that will provide sustainable programs based on what is needed in the region. The plan addresses the lack of strategic planning and second-generational leadership development, as well as policy issues.

The African-American church is often the strongest community, economic or social organization that exists in poor Mid South communities. Historically, it has developed leaders, provided for basic needs of its congregants and community when necessary, offered additional services and support and provided spiritual sustenance. FMS works closely with the region's black churches, particularly those that engage in community and economic development efforts. The Foundation has an African-American Church Program; however, its grantmaking to faith-based organizations is not limited to this program.

The Foundation's initiative includes a commitment to provide the training and technical assistance needed to develop leadership skills, institutional capacity and programmatic expertise of faith-based leaders. The program promotes collaboration and partnerships between churches, banks, government, community development corporations and other sectors in remote rural areas, small towns and urban communities. It also reinforces newly emerging organizations by supporting their efforts to establish and sustain community development programs.

For additional information, contact the Foundation for the Mid South at (601) 355-8167 or on the Internet at

Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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