RANBURNE — Months into a series of community meetings designed to teach leadership and project management to community leaders, the Ranburne Grassroots Initiative is without a project.
About a dozen residents and program partners attended a meeting Monday to discuss how to initiate a six-month project that will help the town.
In November, Ranburne became one of four participants in the Alabama Grassroots Initiative, a project through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University and several partner organizations across the state, that is designed to help the communities help themselves. The program uses community coaching, community meetings, visioning and action planning and leadership development to help the residents decide on a community development project and carry it out. The group is also eligible to apply for a $5,500 grant to help initiate that project.
The people at the meeting came from a diverse background — businessmen, a minister, the founder of a local charity and other concerned residents — but they all shared the desire to better their community.
Kevin Thomas, the minister of three Methodist churches in Ranburne, was one of the people who helped write Ranburne’s application for the program. He has been to all the meetings since the program kicked off in March. Thomas said he’s continued to come for one reason — hope.
“We have a wonderful community, but we need to make improvements,” he said.
Thomas is concerned about the poverty rate in the county, the town’s shrinking tax base and substandard housing. The county has a good school system, Thomas said. Despite that, the poverty rate in the county is too high, he said.
The group started the meeting focused on education and possibly partnering with the school system for a project. As the meeting progressed, though, it became clear that the thing the group most wanted for the town is new business.
Scott Hanson said he believes Ranburne is on the decline and if the town doesn’t do something different, it will continue to decline. Hanson has helped businesses grow in the United States and in India, he said. He wants to help the town he considers home grow.
“I can contribute my management skills,” Hanson said. “I can contribute my business skills.”
Although the group agreed on the town’s needs, ideas for a project it could do in six months that would be self-sustaining were elusive.
Ranburne Mayor Owen Lowery was adamant the town needed something to draw people, something like a restaurant. The group discussed creating a student-run restaurant that could give students training and provide a place for locals to gather. But the project seemed out of the $5,500 ballpark.
The group also discussed the possibility of adult education or partnering with the school system to teach culinary arts or soft skills such as showing up for work on time, communication and problem solving.
Hanson noted that in Auburn, there are multiple avenues for adults to further their education. However, Hanson also noted that providing adult education may not be a self-sustainable project.
Jennifer Maddox, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, one of the partners in the Alabama Grassroots Initiative, brought up the idea of a drive-in theater.
“Drive-in theaters are dwindling,” Maddox said.
That might be a project the group could pull off with the amount of money it has to spend and it could pull people into Ranburne, she said.
As the two-hour meeting drew to a close, the group still had no project in mind.
“This group needs to talk some more,” Maddox said.
Ephraim Stockdale, project manager from Alabama Power, another partner in the initiative, told the residents they need to decide what will bring people to town and entice them to spend money.
“When this is done, this somehow will need to generate revenue to make it self-sustaining,” Stockdale said.
The group scheduled another meeting for next Tuesday, when its members hope to narrow down their wishes for the community into a single project.