A group of citizens concerned about the dwindling conditions and resources in Drew recently met with Congressman Bennie Thompson for a conversation to discuss ways to reinvigorate their beloved community and ensure its future growth.
Leaders and members of the Drew Collaborative sat down with Thompson for nearly two hours, viewed a short PowerPoint presentation and hashed out a strategy to address each aspect of their proposed plan.
The conversation included questions and information on what resources were available for each facet of their plan and which individuals and agencies were their best points of contact.
During the session, David Jackson, executive director, Delta Housing Development Corp., addressed the current and prospective outlook for quality affordable housing.
“Were not just focusing on any one product,” Jackson said.
There are a variety of challenges in the small community.
“We need to look at several products in order to meet as many of the needs or meet as many people where they are,” Jackson said.
Drew Collaborative spokesperson Gloria Dickerson, who also represents the district on the Sunflower County Board of Supervisors, added that the market analysis has been done, and they have identified an area and made application for the CDBG blight grant.
“Also, we are talking about financially educating the people in the community to know what home ownership is, how to get a house, how to keep a house, credit… all of those kinds of things are part of our plan as well,” Dickerson said.
Other components of the group’s plan include the acquisition of a fresh food source.
According to Dickerson, the town’s only grocery store closed in 2012. As part of their initiative, feasibility studies have been done and an effort to identify possible vendors is also underway.
In addition to the grocery store project, downtown development is also a priority.
And the group’s efforts in that area include locating an early childhood education center there and additional eateries.
“Try to get people to know we have a viable downtown,” Dickerson said.
Youth recreation enhancement projects, community education and workforce development projects - including possibly expanding the role of the library in the community - also made the list of factors needed to elevate the group’s beloved hometown.
Mary Ann Griffin, library system director, said they currently have some resources available, however alluding to the physical condition of the current Drew facility, she said more is needed.
Dickerson began the session by stating the organization’s purpose.
“We formed the Drew Collaborative so we could be more comprehensive about what we want to do in Drew,” she said.
“Today, we want to share with you what we have been doing (and) what we have done,” Dickerson told Thompson.
She then followed up by asking what he and his office could do to assist them.
“Give us some pointers and some tips on how do we keep going,” Dickerson said.
In response, Thompson told them that the South Delta Planning and Development District and its executive director Tommy Goodwin were an excellent source and link to other resources.
However, the congressman cautioned, “If you don’t ask for the help, they’re just going to go to Washington County. They’re going to go to Bolívar County and help them.”
Dickerson said they have spoken with Goodwin before, and he has been invited to their meetings, but nothing has come through for them yet. Thompson encouraged the consortium of citizens to be persistent in their asking and to not be deterred by a rebuff, “You’ve got to become the squeaky wheel,” he told them.
He added that SDPDD has to respond in some way to a public official’s request.
One of the holdups, according to Dickerson, has been a ranking whereby Drew is recorded as having only a 49 percent poverty level. In a phone interview afterwards, Goodwin explained that the District uses HUD figures to do the grant work and based on the 2010 census, Drew has a rate that is less than the 51 percent requirement necessary to be eligible for low to moderate income grants.
Goodwin said he doesn’t believe the numbers are correct and suspects that the actual poverty level should be near 70-75 percent. He said his office is already taking steps to ensure that more accurate data is collected for the next national count.
Goodwin said he knows that there are more low income than high income households in this area and evidently the census was not filled out correctly.
Thompson also thinks that the census numbers were incorrect.
“Most of the data for rural communities is inaccurate,” he said. Thompson said a special census could be conducted without having to wait until the next nationwide count.
“That’s my hometown, I’m gonna do the very best I can for the place I grew up,” Goodwin asserted.
And although he stipulated that there is no certainty of funding, Drew did receive a site visit for a $450,000 CDBG grant to repair sewer pumping stations and sewer lines.
He said that there are also a couple of other small grants being worked on for the town including a Mississippi Home Corporation home grant.
Dickerson told Thompson that they have presented their plans to Hope Enterprises/Hope Credit Union and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and have gotten favorable responses on many of their ideas.
According to her, Kellogg has made a verbal commitment to make a “generational investment” in Sunflower County and more especially Drew.
In addition, they are currently working and partnering with Delta Housing, SCCSD, Sunflower Economic Development and the Sunflower County Library System and others to bring their dreams to fruition.
Referencing Hope Enterprises, Thompson said it was good to have the cooperation and help from other financial resources, however, “That’s putting a disproportionate burden on an entity that’s in business to make money, South Delta is not in business to make money, they’re in business to serve the public.”
Referring back to the PowerPoint presentation Thompson said, “There is no program on that wall that in some form or another he (Goodwin) can’t be helpful to you.”
SDPDD gets money from the federal government to serve the public, he stated. Thompson said they should ask South Delta to identify all of the federal resources available for the programs they wanted to do.
‘Clean up your town’
Thompson charged the mayor and aldermen to “clean up your town, you can’t entice people to invest in your community if it doesn’t look good.”
Dickerson said getting more community members involved has been an issue because the people feel as though the group’s efforts will be unsuccessful.
However, she said, “We are determined that something is going to happen.”
“We have this vision that Drew can be this place where people choose Drew to live, because it’s such a wonderful place.”