By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
Imagine the following scene. You have $1,000 in your bank account. You go to the bank to withdraw $100, but the bank teller tells you she’ll only give you $10. At a window next to you, you recognize a local recreation director. She tries to withdraw $500 but even though the money is in her account, the teller hands her a five-dollar bill and shuts the window. Would you put up with this? Well, actually, it appears you are. Because a local foundation which has been court ordered to distribute 2 million in funds to the citizens of Natchitoches is, to put it bluntly, giving very little of it away each year.
The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation (NCIF) was established in 2003, to give away money won in a settlement with Tennessee Gas in a Sibley Lake pcb spill lawsuit. The District Court approved a plan of allocation that said the funds would be given to the people of Natchitoches in the areas of housing, recreation, education and economic development. Yet in the last few years the foundation has given away on average only about $28,000 each year. However, after public pressure, the amount was increased last year to $51,000. But that is the total amount for all three of the four categories combined: recreation, education and economic development. That could likely mean, about $17,000 per category. A tiny morsel, considering the serious needs in Natchitoches, a parish with a very high poverty level. Take a look at those areas: 1) Recreation—in Natchitoches, many poor kids play basketball on goals set up in the streets—dangerous. 2)Education—this town has lots of students. Many bright, industrious students—young and old—cannot afford college. Instead of giving just a dozen or so scholarships per year, why not give 100 scholarships per year? 3) Economic Development—In Natchitoches, most jobs are low paying. Why not invest in new small businesses and programs that could help people prepare for or gain entry into better paying jobs? 4)Housing—let’s face it. Too many homes are substandard. Good affordable places to live are too hard to find. All of this would require more than a mere $51,000 per year. With such needs, can we afford to be stingy?
Also consider the fact that in the settlement, the court ordered all of the money be given away. That was in the late 1990s. Yes, the fund grows, but the public’s take home share of it barely does. In fact, the foundation actually put a cap on how much is given away each year. I have asked the board why the cap? Why isn’t the money given based on merit? And why so little considering there is so much money available? The clearest answer I have gotten is when a board member communicated that they were concerned about giving it all away. But isn’t that the point of the settlement? To give it all away? And not little droplets every year, but in a timely fashion. What seems to be happening here, is that the priority of the foundation seems to be to keep itself going instead of giving away all the funds. Giving all the money away will actually establish a track record for giving, which would allow them to win large grants and replenish the fund.
At the last quarterly meeting a group that serves children with learning disabilities asked NCIF for $50,000 and the board recommended giving them just $10,000. Why not give them the full amount? The money is there, just sitting in some account. What is it for if not to fund these community groups? In their own brochure, NCIF says, “The purpose of NCIF is to deploy resources to improve recreational, educational and economic development for the youth and citizens of the city of Natchitoches.” So why not give groups that are doing those very things, full funding? Wouldn’t bigger grants be more helpful and lead to better results?
Seems clear NCIF needs more input from the public. More money needs to find its way into the hands of the public and faster. Only public involvement can do that. That means you Mr. and Mrs. Public. The next quarterly meeting is Tuesday, July 13, 2021, at First Baptist Amulet, 1116 Amulet in Natchitoches at 7pm and it is open to the public. This will only change with public input. And you can take that to the bank.
The Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation Board members are: Oswald Taylor, Mildred Joseph, Gwen Antee Hardison-Davis, Shaniqua Hoover (by phone), Gwendolyn Williams, Rene Porter, Edwin Deon Powe, De’Marquis Hamiliton, New: Helen Obioha (the following are sitting on the board in violation of term limits of NCIF bylaws: Leo Walker Sr., Diane Blake Jones).
“The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7, The Bible
“Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” -Luke 6:38, The Bible
Next time you need to research some history, instead of just doing a Google Search, search for an elder instead. I found this out, when I sat down recently with a gracious local man, William Cleveland who is in his eighties. I picked his memory about the Rodney King beating. That was the first incident that sparked concern over blacks dying at the hands of the type of police officers who go too far. I asked Cleveland what he remembers about the incident. He said, “Rodney King got stopped by the police in Los Angeles. I heard he was kind of arrogant and resisted. They started beating on him and trying to restrain him. Afterwards, his people filed charges and eventually they won millions.” Cleveland was glad justice was done in that case and pointed out that this kind of thing happens in Natchitoches too. But what I noted most is how quickly he called up that memory about like a Google Search would. However, the difference is when you spend time discussing history with an elder, you’ll learn things Google can’t teach and the time spent is a lot more fulfilling.
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