New Albany team of volunteers awarded a self-help grant to improve its community

A team of three volunteers from New Albany recently attended a two-day workshop where they were awarded a $3,000 grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission. Their winning proposal, “I Folk Art NA” is aimed at providing free folk art classes and entrepreneurial skills to youth and adults. The grant is part of the Appalachian Community Learning Project, which is a six-month, self-help community development program coordinated by the Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University and the Rensselaerville Institute based in New York.

Micha Foster, Jill Smith, Bailey King and Tracy Vainisi represented their community at the ACLP workshop, which was created by ARC and the Rensselaerville Institute in the 1990s. ACLP uses citizen “Sparkplugs” to create the change needed to jumpstart projects that benefit their local communities. By starting with small projects such as I Folk Art NA, even the most distressed small communities can gain the experience needed to move to more complex initiatives in the future. Twelve Northeast Mississippi communities, including groups from Amory, Artesia, Ashland, Belmont, Calhoun City, Center Ridge, Eupora, New Albany, Shannon, Starkville, Walnut, and Winona, attended the workshop in Tupelo May 5-6 and were awarded grants from the ARC.

Classes will begin the first week in June and continue through the first week of August. Students will have a booth at the last 2nd Saturdays Folk Art on the River on August 9 and the last three Biscuits & Jam Farmers’ Market in order to learn skills about selling and marketing their work. The Art of Dixie is also creating a special place on for students to show and sell their work. Ten percent of their proceeds will go back to I Folk Art NA to sustain the program and continue classes. Classes include felted soap, string art, chair canning, jewelry making, quilt squares, welding, lamp making and mixed media. Classes will be limited to 10 students each and students must be 11 years of age to participate. The welding class will be limited to five students over the age of 15. Classes will be held at the Art House on Highland Street. Students can sign up at the Union County Heritage Museum.


The first four classes will be as follows:


Felted Soap             June 3, 2014       6-7:30             Amanda Heavner

String Art            June 9, 2014              5-8                        Julie Eaton

String Art             June 10, 2014              5-8                        Julie Eaton

Chair Canning   June 21, 2014     9-2                        JD Jones


Remainder of class schedule will be announced when classes begin.


For more information about the I Folk Art NA or to donate funds, gifts, or in-kind services for this project, contact the team Sparkplug, Micha Foster, at (662) 266-7700or e-mail at   For more information about the Mississippi ACLP, contact Joe Fratesi or Jeremy Murdock with the Stennis Institute at (662) 325-3328 or Dave Watson-Hallowell with the Rensselaerville Institute at (973) 853-2139 or For more information about the Stennis Institute ( and the Rensselaerville Institute (, visit their respective Web sites. For more information about ARC,