LOWNDES COUNTY – Courtesy of the Dispatch
Matt Bogue, co-chair for the Lowndes Community Foundation, outlines five key focus areas for Columbus and Lowndes County – Photo by Deanna Robinson, Dispatch Staff
The Lowndes County Foundation has put together a steering committee comprised of many local community leaders in order to help decide how best to distribute grants intended to identify and address community challenges on a grand scale. The LCF is a local branch of the Tupelo-based CREATE Foundation, which has given out more than $109,000 among dozens of organizations and projects in Lowndes County since 2005.
At a recent meeting of the committee, attended by 44 members, Matt Bogue (co-chair of the LCF and VP of Dutch Oil) stated that “(We have) people from business, people from education, people from social service, people from all walks of life . . . These are people who are engaged and very invested in Columbus and Lowndes County. It’s a solid group.” He went on to say, “We’re business owners, people who work and teach in the community, people who live here. Our kids play ball in the parks . . . Organizations are working on these problems and get hung up. What we’re saying is, you tell us where you’re running into dead ends and let us see where we can help you.”
The group seeks to address many issues in the area, from blight and poverty to crime and educational issues. They know that no one group can fix every problem, so they are working on finding ways to address small portions of every issue that they can, conquering one problem at a time.
“(For example) I think ‘How do we solve the poverty problem?’ is almost the wrong question,” Bogue said. “It’s too big of a question. Instead, how do we take action in ways that reduce the impact of that issue? There are great organizations in the community trying to address poverty in Columbus. How does this task force plug in with those and bring those together instead of duplicating those efforts . . . That takes coordination. You can’t look at the problems of crime or educational proficiency in Lowndes County as ‘I’m going to address this (broad) problem.'”
“We’re good at arresting people for drugs, but what happens next?” Columbus Police Chief Fred Shelton, said. “We need to do things that help get people off drugs and return them to being productive citizens . . . I like the holistic approach the Lowndes Community Foundation is taking here,” Shelton said. “By (better educating our children and implementing other improvements), I believe it will work.”
“We always gravitate toward the bad,” said Bogue, as he remarked upon the community’s view of itself, especially with regards to crime. “Things aren’t that bad. We live in a great community.”
Colin Krieger, a Re/MAX Realtor serving on the community engagement task force, feels the same way; he believes that we need to rid ourselves of our own apathy before we can truly move forward: “We’re often our own worst enemy with our narrative, when in fact, Columbus is a lot better off than many other communities,” he said. “Economically, we’re growing.”
LCF is not the first group to make such an attempt; some have done better than others: “There are generations of brilliant people who have tackled these problems, and yet they still persist,” Bogue said. “It doesn’t mean they didn’t do their job or do a fantastic job. What it means is these are very complex issues. Solving them is an overwhelming task. But hopefully, we can leave our community in a little bit better place for the next generation than where it was when we inherited it.”
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