Community Sparkplugs celebrated completion of their projects this week

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

BURNSVILLE – From the relocation of a small historic “colored school” in Burnsville to receiving a $250,000 Mississippi Department of Transportation grant, the Mississippi Appalachian Regional Commission Community Sparkplugs grants program is making a difference across northeast Mississippi.
Nine northeast Mississippi communities that received the $3,000 mini-grants came together in Burnsville this week to report progress on their projects.
The idea to preserve the Burnsville One-Room Colored School, conceived by the Tishomingo County Historical and Genealogical Society, was among those the Center for What Works encouraged through their project.
“We’re making a two-year commitment to support you,” said Dave Watson-Hallowell of the Rensselaerville Institute in North Carolina, which oversees WhatWorks programs. “This program gives you the opportunity to be citizen problem-solvers rather than passive citizens.”
For more than 20 years the Rensselaerville Institute has used the Community Sparkplugs program to help more than 300 communities develop leadership from within.
WhatWorks began working with the Mississippi ARC in the spring, bringing together communities for a preparatory workshop to explain the process. From there the communities assembled teams, selected projects and mapped a timeline for completion within six months.
For the town of Eupora the $3,000 grant was itself a sparkplug, said presenter Dan Burchfield. The team and volunteers completed the proposed projects to build a pier at an existing boating ramp and batting cages for the baseball fields.
As an unexpected bonus the town developed new relationships with Mississippi State University, and the school’s fishing team may bring a tournament to the White’s Creek Lake.
Earlier this week Eupora learned that MDOT has awarded them a $250,000 grant to link all their recreational facilities with each other and downtown with a walking and biking trail.
Other Community Sparkplug projects in northeast Mississippi include:
* Byhalia: Beautified the town’s Brunswick Park which has attracted more events and boosted businesses.
* Crawford: Turned a donated house into a community center for the town’s youth, providing programs in health, education and employment.
* Duck Hill: Completed a downtown revitalization project with landscaping and public space improvements.
* Kilmichael: Organized a number of community improvement projects, particularly planting 40 red crepe myrtles in a downtown green space and installed several park benches.
* Maben: Created a farmers market attracting about 30 vendors each week to a downtown location and attracting many visitors that also supported other local busineses.
* Noxapater: Established a place to hold ongoing farmers markets, with plans to attract more olunteers, more producers and more youths to mentor.
* Starkville: Established Youth Employment Service – Y.E.S. – youth job skills and employment program in conjunction with the Mayor’s Youth Council which trained 20 youths in first six months and helped find employment for 15 of them.
WhatWorks is developing an online Community Sparkplugs support site which should be available in the coming weeks, Watson-Hallowell said.
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com