By Edwin Crayton
Maybe you know by now that The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) has 1.8 million dollars to give away—by court order. But last year, 2017, according to their own grant brochure, it budgeted to give a total of only a mere $27,000 total to the public for the whole year—and it’s even unclear how much of that it actually did give away. Apparently this year it will be about the same. It helps to remember, that the foundation was originally court-ordered to give away all the money–which resulted from a settlement with Tennessee Gas involving the spill of dangerous PCB’s in Sibley Lake. The money is meant for citizens in the Natchitoches Community. But honestly, at the rate that NCIF is giving money away through grants and scholarships, a person 40 something years old will possibly never live to see the funds given away entirely. So, this made me curious.
At the May 15, quarterly meeting at First Baptist Amulet Street, I asked the foundation why, in the first place, did it put a cap on the amounts of money given to the public and why the amounts of money given are so incredibly small. I pointed out that with a fund that is almost $2 million, giving away less than $28,000 total a year is about 2% of the fund. A drop in the bucket—a really big bucket and a really, really tiny drop.
The board members’ responses revealed a lot. Board member Shaniqua Hoover said, “You don’t want to give all of your money away at one time”. But isn’t that kind of the point? Wasn’t the money NCIF manages supposed to basically be completely distributed to the Natchitoches public? Board Member Dianne Blake Jones gave as a reason that they were trained by the Rapides Foundation, seeming to make the point that this process was part of their training. Alright, but instead of the Rapides Foundation, weren’t they supposed to be taking their marching orders from the district judge who ruled in the settlement case what should happen to the money? I mentioned to the board that there are local groups. businesses or individuals who genuinely need and deserve $50,000 or $100,000. I then added that there was a time a few years back when NCIF seemed to agree– before they began capping funds. At that time, NCIF granted $30,000 to one group—LNC Foundation, an alumni organization which board member Ed Ward has ties to. That $30,000 is more than they gave the entirety of last year. Attempting to illustrate how caps can backfire, I asked them a question. Realizing they award $1,000 scholarships I asked if they had 50 A plus students to consider, would they only fund 25 when all of them were equally deserving? They said yes they’d only fund their budget—which would not even be half the students because they decided to split their annual funding into two categories a year and education only gets $12,000 of the $27,000 annual total mentioned.
To be clear: NCIF is supposed to fund four areas: education, housing, economic development and recreation. But unfortunately, it has decided to only fund two of those per year and that is yet another way its funding policies severely restrict what the public can get. With 1.8 million in the bank, does that seem somewhat stingy? By the way, they may not spend $50,000 on students but documents show in 2014 NCIF spent over $55,000 on legal. So do lawyers have a better shot at getting 50K from NCIF than students do? However, Board Member James Below Jr. offered a positive response. He said, “You have to have a number to work with to put on a brochure”. Referring to the “cap”, he said, “This was part of a 3-year plan which ends in 2018. After the third year, we agreed that in 2019 we will discuss increasing it”. If the board does that it would be good and wise, but only if they significantly increase these tiny yearly grants. Ironically, towards meeting’s end, most of the group lobbied to budget $1,000 for a ceremony to hand out scholarships. Chairman Leo Walker, who lately is more often a voice of reason, objected to this and reminded the group that other organizations handing out scholarships don’t usually give treats with them. Board Member Gwen Hardison also advised keeping it simple. Yet, the prevailing mood was to do the ceremony and spend the money, so they voted to budget $1,000 for the ceremony. Keep in mind, the scholarships themselves are $1,000 each student. That’s the exact amount they budgeted to spend on a ceremony to make handing them out a celebration. I communicated to them that this $1,000 could’ve funded another scholarship for a student.
NCIF board members are: Leo Walker, Oswald Taylor, Ed Ward Jr., Billye Sue Johnson, Brenda Milner, Shaniqua Hoover, Mildred Joseph, Estelle Braxtox, James Below Jr., Catherine Hoover, Kelvin Porter, Gwendolyn Williams, Diane Blake Jones and Gwen Hardison
“Of whom much is given, much is required.”
-Jesus, Luke 12:48