Mississippi County, though impoverished, is an area with "good bones," according to Joe Black, administrator of The Delta Bridge Project, part of the non profit arm of Southern Bancorp. The group is in initial consultation and planning phases of bringing its efforts to the Blytheville area for a comprehensive and holistic improvement project.
Southern Bancorp, which is classified as a community development financial institution by the United States Treasury, has non-profit community development as part of its mission statement, and the group has already targeted other counties where the banks' branches are located, with anything from programs to assist in education to new community-wide facilities built.
"Southern Bancorp typically locates in areas that need economic stimulus," said Black, "and we launch comprehensive community development programs. A bank wants to create access to capital for a community, but we realize that that has to be augmented with programs to improve what we call the five pillars of development: housing, education, health, leadership and economic development."
Black said attempting to determine one or more detailed things that the program can provide for the community is thinking too small.
"Right now we are in an assessment phase, meeting with community leaders and seeing if they are ready to take these steps," he said. "We can provide funding, but we want to know every angle of how to help this community. We're talking about addressing a whole problem, whether that requires facilities, programs, we mean to solve it by addressing it from every angle. So right now we are just assessing needs -- attempting to determine exactly what we'll do just puts people's minds in a box, and we don't have to do that."
Black hopes to form a local steering committee to guide this study and development on an action plan by late March, and a local facilitator will be hired by the summer, to be the group's full-time employee in the area. Part of that group's work will be to align all services provided in each of the five pillars, so that the community has organized access to help.
"So far, the response from community members has been very positive," said Black. "For our type of holistic change to happen, people have to be ready to engage, and I think we're seeing that here. It's exciting because Mississippi County does have something to work with. We are able to go beyond the usual in assisting communities, but it takes a certain attitude to accept that."
The assessment and planning phase of the Delta Bridge Project will not be completed until the end of the first quarter in 2013, Black said, but its end goals are to build up the community's capacity to improve and run itself.