Previous Experience
Building Rural Communities - Past Programs

Critical Difference Scholarship Program
Homeowners' Association
Louisiana Rural Home Loan Partnership
Public Policy Leadership Institute
The Federation of Self-Help Associations
Youth Development

Critical   Difference Scholarship Program   
Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, SMHA established a Critical Difference Scholarship Program.Through this program, SMHA awarded eight $20,000 scholarships to young people in the sugar cane areas where SMHA works.

In return, recipients agreed to return something of value to the community from which they came after they graduated. This can be in the form of community service or a financial contribution toward the education of others. These Critical Difference students developed and implemented strategies to involve youth in positive outreach activities during college breaks in their communities.

Four of the Critical Difference Scholarship awardees chose to work in education with youth in nearby communities. Three former recipients continued studies in medicine and in the legal profession. One more recipient graduated in December of 2004 with a degree in psychology

Homeowners'   Association

Who We Are

Buying a home takes time and hard work -- and it is often the greatest financial investment a family can make. Becoming a new homeowner is exciting, but there is more to home ownership than signing a mortgage note. You need to protect your investment by following a regular home maintenance program and developing a sound financial management plan. SMHA's Homeowners' Association helps provide supportive activities and promotes leadership development in first time homeowners who have purchased a home through the Louisiana Rural Home Loan Partnership or through SMHA's affiliate CDFI, Southern Mutual Financial Services. Through the Homeowners' Association, clients take charge of their learning and individual growth, and are developing a peer support network. The Homeowners' Association is open to those families who have purchased or are in the process of purchasing a home through SMHA.

Home ownership counseling classes emphasize that important decisions do not end with the construction or purchase of a home. The Homeowners' Association offers families who have purchased their home through the Louisiana Rural Home Loan Partnership an opportunity to join together to help shape policies that impact their communities. Members of the association represent a wide spectrum of rural Louisiana's low-wealth families: women and men; African-Americans, Creoles, Cajuns, and Euro-Americans; young and old.

Future Homeowners Loan Action Plan

Some families may not be ready for a Louisiana Rural Home Loan Partnership loan. SMHA assists these families in developing a Future Homeowners Loan Action Plan: a plan for improving their credit and preparing for home ownership!

Family First Inspection Program

Through the Family First Inspection Program, families who are approved for loans are provided a checklist and are involved in inspecting their houses as they are being built. By working with SMHA to identify and correct any problems before final inspections are conducted by the lending institutions, family members develop a sense of ownership. This program reinforces excellence during the building stage, promotes customer satisfaction with the final product, and educates the families about maintaining their homes.

Monthly Homeownership Counseling

Learning Opportunities
New homeowners, as a part of their Louisiana Rural Home Loan Partnership loan package, become eligible to receive scholarships to participate in continuing education activities of their choice. These scholarships help to set a pattern of life-long learning.

Louisiana   Rural Home Loan Partnership

Southern Mutual Help Association addresses the deep-rooted causes of poverty and its consequences through a comprehensive approach to affordable home ownership which is central to the American Dream. Neighborhoods thrive when community members own their own homes. Children prosper when they grow up with a sense of security and pride in their family's assets.

Yet, the barriers to homeownership for the nation's working poor are often overwhelming.

A single mother with three children, a young couple with a disability, or other individuals with very low incomes may face:

Little or no access to affordable capital ∑ A large down payment, high closing costs, and attorney's fees that outstrip their savings ∑ Poor credit histories that prevent them from qualifying for a mortgage ∑ Little knowledge of how to budget their income and expenses ∑ Relatives and neighbors who discourage them from even trying to own a home ∑ Daunting decisions at every turn ∑ Total unfamiliarity with the process of becoming a homeowner and a fear of asking questions ∑ No experience maintaining a house and protecting their investment ∑ Disbelief that owning a home is something they could ever really do.

Through the Louisiana Rural Home Loan Partnership, SMHA makes it possible for low-wealth families to obtain loans to purchase or build a home and thus build their assets. The success of this program lies in Southern Mutual's unique family and community development initiatives aimed at preparing families to be homeowners and supporting their efforts to build healthy, prosperous communities.

The Louisiana Rural Home Loan Partnership: One Family's Story

rural home loan partnership - before
rural home loan partnership - after
SMHA: Turning this ...
... into this! Three generations of women now own this home!

Three generations of African-American women were living behind a landfill in rural St. Landry Parish. The 89 year old matriarch, her daughter and her granddaughter lived in a building with no indoor plumbing; the roof leaked with every rain, and daylight was visible through holes in the walls and floor. Through the efforts of SMHA, Washington State Bank (an SMHA partner), the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, and USDA Rural Housing Services, on August 2, 2001, this family became the owners of a newly renovated brick three-bedroom, one-bath home right outside the Opelousas city limits.

When the family arrived at their new home, following the loan closing, the 89 year old grandmother, who is nearly blind from cataracts, resisted leaving the car because she was afraid that she had been brought back to her old house. When she realized she was now at her new home, her eyes filled with tears and she walked to the front door without the aid of her walking stick. The granddaughter showed off the new home by posing for SMHA and Washington State Bank staff with one foot in the bathtub -- her first experience in the new home would be a bath using the indoor plumbing.

Public Policy   Leadership Institute   

Public Policy Leadership Institute (PPLI)-- an "institute without walls" -- is more of a process than a thing. The goal is toincrease civic involvement, particularly among marginalized citizens in economically distressed areas, empowering them to have a greater voice in finding solutions and shaping policies at the local, state, and national levels.

Adventures in Citizenship

SMHA has recently produced an interactive CD-ROM to institutionalize the PPLI process so it can be used in other venues. SMHA is working with schools to use the CD-ROM to teach citizenship, civics, and personal responsibility. It will also be made available to other leadership programs and grassroots organizations in Louisiana and throughout the country.

The interactive CD features animated characters as well as stories of real grass-roots leaders, and the content is organized into three parts which can be explored in any order:

1. What Are Public Policies and How Do They Affect You?

Here "Rappin' Boogie Bobcat" engages the viewer with a "Public Policy Rap" and takes the user on an interactive joy ride where he or she can discover public policy connections at home, at work, at school, at play and in the community.

2. The Saga of Soggy Bottom Swamp

The user has a front-row seat for "The Saga of Soggy Bottom Swamp," where a cast of critters face a life-threatening dilemma and then discover their power and use it to save the swamp.

3. What You Can Do About Public Policies

This part is divided into three sectionsĖ"See,""Believe" and "Do." In it users discover the importance of knowing what the current situation or problem is and what they want it to be, how to find and use their power, and what it takes to make change happen. The content in the third section is layered, so users can either get an overview or go deeper in some areas if they like. They can read stories about how real people have used their power to make change happen by clicking on the "people power" scrapbook or they can answer questions that appear in the mirror and make a customized "power certificate."

PPLI is a Process

The PPLI process -- which has been incorporated in all of SMHA's work with communities of homeowners, fishers, farmers, and self-help associations -- is designed to help citizens recognize the connection between public policies and their everyday lives, understand that they have the power to help create and change public policies, and learn how to do it.

The   Federation of Self-Help Associations

Rapid mechanization of the sugar cane industry in the last several decades displaced thousands of field workers and their families, leaving countless communities devastated by poverty and hopelessness. By using its
Self-Help Model, Southern Mutual Help Association supported the creation of four self-help associations in West St. Mary Parish. They formed a Federation of Self-Help Associations and worked together to meet their individual and common goals.

SMHA Provided Technical Assistance to the Self-Help Associations and the Federation to:

  • Develop community-based leadership
  • Improve housing and infrastructure
  • Increase citizen impact in public decision-making
  • Promote health awareness
  • Improve opportunities in education
  • Plan and implement economic development initiatives

The SMHA Self-Help Model

SMHA's Self-Help Model emphasizes:
  • "Presence and Performance" versus a "First-Come, First-Served" Philosophy
  • A comprehensive approach based on strategic planning, rather than piecemeal efforts
  • The concept that people will want to become a part of what's working, thus eliminating the need to recruit participants in programs
  • Communities investing in self-help rather than passively relying on entitlements.
The goal is to empower families to envision and create a healthy and prosperous future.

The Federation of Self-Help Associations fostered cooperation and mentoring of self-help associations instead of competition, and regional planning instead of duplication.

Youth   Development

Southern Mutual Help Association recognizes that the sustainability of its work requires
youth development, so it supports and encourages a number of initiatives aimed at developing the next generation of leaders.

Youth involvement and leadership development is emphasized in SMHA's homeownership training, in its work with the homeowners' and community self-help associations, and in its work with fishers and farmers through the Life Quality program.

Other SMHA efforts include:
  • SMHA's work to get its recently produced interactive CD-ROM used in middle and high school civics and social studies classes to help bring civics to life and show students how they can become involved in public policy making.
  • A Youth Council of Leaders grew out of a youth forum sponsored by SMHA in 1995. At the forum attended by the young people of the Federation of Self-Help Association communities, the youth expressed a desire to play a greater role in their communities and in the federation.
  • Youth in the Federation area participate in experiential activities designed to provide learning opportunities around math and language skills, problem solving, public speaking, research, health awareness, and personal and social development with an emphasis on leadership, policy, and entrepreneurial education.
  • A Youth Design Team developed a new leadership model built around 21 Leadership Action Steps designed to prepare youth for future leadership roles in their community and state.
  • The youth have also designed a program to train mentors to work with young people.

Youth are also a focus of our Public Policy Leadership Institute

Life Quality - Previous Programs

Environmental Asset Building

Sustainable Communities

Traditional Fishers In Transition

Transitioning to Sustainable Agriculture

Louisianaís abundant natural resources are threatened by decades of pollution, over-consumption, contamination, and depletion. SMHA is committed to educating and moving homeowners, farmers and fishers to join with larger communities to use their power to advocate policies and activities that minimize and end hazards to health and threats to our economy.

Our Environmental Asset Building initiative is also a dance of relationships and connectedness within and between Southern Mutualís Building Rural Communities and Life Quality programs. Clean air and water, healthy soil, and healthful, nutritious foods are basic to human wellness. SMHA finds that most people do not fully realize the relationship of these assets to their day-to-day lives. Rural people often face:

  • Fallout from policies that permit companies to locate and operate in less populated areas; i.e. carbon black plants, injection wells, land fills.
  • Sugarcane burning.
  • Crop dusting and spraying.
  • Abandoned buildings and industrial sites.
  • Dumping of all manner of refuse on vacant lots, country roads.
  • Neglect of timely dredging of isolated canals and ditches by parish and state agencies.
  • Refuse from abandoned oil/gas development.
  • Development of oil/gas and pipelines as well as storage facilities.
  • Location of wastewater treatment plants for municipalities.
  • Noncompliance of drinking water sources.
  • Inadequate sewage disposal facilities.

In its Environmental Asset Building initiative:

SMHA documents threats to relevant local environmental assets that will impact families, communities, farms, marshes.

Southern Mutual provides information that shows relationships between prosperous rural communities and stewardship of environmental assets.

SMHA created the Citizens Environmental Center where community leaders can obtain technical assistance on complex environmental issues that arise in their communities, homes, farms, and marshes. The center also provides technical assistance to and partners with grassroots groups working for the just management of the stateís air, land and water.

SMHA provides documentation to homeowners showing that their homes are located on land that has been certified as environmentally safe by the Citizens Environmental Center.

The communities of fishers, farmers, farm workers and marginalized rural people with whom Southern Mutual works are all interconnected with our land and waters. When family farms are diminished, so is the local economy. Economists tell us that for every farm that goes under, seven small businesses in local towns fold. As fisher families are forced out of their way of life and disperse to find low-paying jobs elsewhere, welfare rolls increase, and strong ties to the earth are severed as are ties to family and culture. 

However, when marginalized rural people become new homeowners, and learn how to maintain their property, grow their assets and use the power of their voices in the local community, there is a ripple effect of improvement in every part of the community. Recognizing this, SMHA , through its Sustainable Communities Initiative, has intentionally built into all of its work the skills and learnings that will enable a long-term (sustainable) quality future for individuals, families and communities.

The Traditional Fishers in Transition initiative grew out of Southern Mutualís commitment to sustainable rural development. 

In late 1994, when Southern Mutual held 56 community meetings in several parishes, traditional commercial fishers came together for the first time and brought urgent concerns of losing their rights of access to public waters and, in turn, their ability to continue their small businesses. 

Their love of fishing, of the marshes and of their distinctive culture has kept their spirit alive as SMHA assists in their struggle to find economic alternatives and to build Southern Mutualís capacity to respond.

The Transitioning to Sustainable Agriculture initiative grew out of SMHA's concern that sugarcane, as well as other row crop farmers in Louisiana and across the nation, are the most vulnerable to losing their farms. Most of Louisiana's farm land is owned or leased by row crop farm families. 
Loss of these farms is an irreversible loss of prime agricultural land to family farms and regional food security. 

Historically, SMHA has been concerned with the impact of agriculture on communities as a whole-- from helping farm workers find economic justice, to highlighting the connection between agriculture and environmental sustainability, to seeking out ways to protect the health of farm workers and family members who work in the fields.



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