Ag program awareness tops town hall issues list

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 24, 2006

Agricultural awareness programs topped the list of communityneeds identified by county and city officials and residentsattending a town hall meeting Tuesday night at St. Paul MissionaryBaptist Church.

Participants in the event, sponsored by the Alcorn StateUniversity Extension Service, agreed that agriculture awarenessprograms, public transportation, a farmer’s market, a publicswimming pool and more activities for the youth were the mostimportant issues facing the county today.

As a result of the town hall meeting, the extension service willform focus groups of specialists and professionals in the targetedareas, along with interested residents, to determine how best tomeet those needs, said Gerald Jones, ASU regional director.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We plan to move on this quickly and have the focus groupsworking within a few weeks,” said Charles Shepphard, an ASUspecialist.

The focus group topoics were determined through brainstormingsessions by participants.

Attendees were separated into three groups and given a specifiedtime limit to discuss topics that needed attention. The groups werethen brought together and each group presented its list to allparticipants.

A master list of ideas was then compiled, and participants votedon which areas needed the most attention. The facilitators of thebrainstorming sessions were also allowed to participate in thevoting.

Issues which did not receive enough votes to make the top fiveincluded senior transportation, after school programs, a communitycenter and a program to help feed the elderly.

Mike Byrne, the local ASU extension agent, said he was pleasedwith the turnout and the results of the meeting.

Discussions in some of the brainstorming sessions was ratherlively as participants debated the merits of suggestions.

District One Supervisor the Rev. Jerry Wilson drew both praiseand criticism when he said while available jobs were an issue wheremore emphasis should be made in building community pride andencouraging residents to seek them. He said too many residents sitback and wait for jobs to come to them while enjoying federal andstate welfare or unemployment checks rather than pursuing the jobsthat are available.

“We want somebody to take care of us all the time,” he said.”Well, we’re the ones who need to go out and get those availablejobs. If we have to beat them to get them (to job openings), thenwe have to beat them there every day to get them to work, and thatjust doesn’t work.”

Wilson suggested having more social workers target peoplecapable of working that don’t have jobs as an area of need.

“Let’s get somone knocking on those doors and explaining to themhow important it is to have a job,” he said.

Not only would that benefit both the individuals and thecommunity economically, Wilson said, but it would also pay greatdividends indirectly socially by reinforcing basic work ethics andvalues.

Critics of Wilson’s suggestion said they didn’t believe socialworkers were the solution. They believed it would take a change inthe fabric of the community to force residents to view thesituation differently.

The extension service will pass the meeting results on to itsheadquarters office, which will then design some programs to helpmeet those needs in its sphere of operations. Topics outside of itspurview will be forwarded to agencies that oversee programs in thatarea, Byrne said.

The results will also be forwarded to the national office andcompiled with town hall meetings from across the nation to bepresented to national officials as a grassroots movement.