Sparkplugs power their communities to do more

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

Tightened budgets have squeezed many communities’ ability to implement innovative ideas, but a program of the Appalachian Regional Commission is helping residents find ways to do more with less.
Recently the Mississippi Appalachian Community Learning Project selected 11 programs that each received a $3,000 mini-grant to implement ideas that will improve their communities.
The programs are led by “Community Sparkplugs,” groups of community volunteers who donate their energy, passion and enthusiasm to implement their ideas.
“By starting with small projects, even the most distressed small communities can gain the experience needed to move on to more complex strategic development activities,” said Mary Beth Loucks-Sorrell of The Rensselaerville Institute, which directs the program for the ARC.
Northeast Mississippi communities awarded the mini-grants include Baldwyn, Corinth, Fulton, Iuka and Shannon. Other Mississippi communities awarded Community Sparkplug mini-grants this year include Artesia, Como, Crawford, Louisville, Oakland and Scooba. Rensselaerville trainers provide technical support and will make site visits to each project during the six-month period.
In Corinth, the funds will be used by the Easom Outreach Foundation to support a community feeding program at a site that once housed the South Corinth Elementary School and the pre-integration Easom High School for black students.
The Iuka Black Homecoming Committee will use their award to create a learning resource center at the Johnson-Ford-Mitchell Community Center, expanding the community’s access to computer learning resources, video learning resources and books. The project also will increase the usefulness of the J-F-M Center, which has an important historical and cultural place in the community.
Each project, within a six-month period, will expand volunteerism and provide economic benefit to the communities.
These groups join more than 200 small towns and urban neighborhoods that The Rensselaerville Institute has guided in Community Sparkplug projects during the past 20 years of partnership with the ARC.
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com