Special to the News-Times
Communities Unlimited and the TLL Temple Foundation are bolstering civic infrastructure across rural East Texas.
Supported by a five-year $3.1 million grant from the TLL Temple Foundation, the two entities developed an initiative called ConnectRURAL to strengthen the capacities of rural communities to plan for, secure, and manage transformational federal and state funding opportunities.
Communities with strained civic infrastructure have been held back as they work to tackle their long-standing challenges. ConnectRURAL will assist small-underserved communities in accessing funding for federal programs by embedding Community Resource Managers throughout the TLL Temple service area.
These Community Resource Managers will collaborate with community leaders to identify local needs and develop action plans. Through this collaboration, East Texas communities will connect local priorities with CU’s multi-state network of technical assistance expertise in rural water systems, broadband, entrepreneurship, small business lending, and community sustainability.
“This project really has the potential to be a game changer for the region,” said Martha Claire Bullen, CU Director for Community Sustainability. “TLL Temple Foundation’s commitment to this initiative will allow us to address this gap that we know exists between resources that are out there and actually drawing them into rural communities. From community members to municipal leadership there are dollars not making it to their intended destinations and our goal is to make that connection.”
ConnectRURAL also establishes a special pooled funding mechanism for rural communities to access cost share and matching funds, which will mitigate a common burden on rural communities attempting to secure federal grants. The Community Resource Managers will serve as local intermediaries in a web of direct technical assistance and targeted funding that will enhance regional development across rural East Texas.
In addition, ConnectRURAL will initiate an AmeriCorps Program that will place members throughout the region to assist communities with achieving their goals and identifying resources. In the short term, dozens of nonprofit and civic agencies will strengthen their human resources capacities by hosting AmeriCorps members.
In the long term, East Texas will benefit from having a growing cadre of dozens, and eventually hundreds, of young residents who have served their communities in meaningful roles and developed the skills and experiences to become the civic, business, health, and service-oriented leaders who will build a thriving future.
“The ConnectRURAL initiative is designed to overcome the key barriers that rural communities face in accessing transformational resources,” said Wynn Rosser, president and CEO of the TLL Temple Foundation. Rosser said, “Rural communities need both/and models that address immediate needs while strengthening long-term capacity at multiple levels. With regionally based Community Resource Managers supporting bottom-up planning that connects to technical assistance networks, pooled matching and cost share funding, and a pathway to develop the next generation of rural leaders through AmeriCorps, this ConnectRURAL partnership with Communities Unlimited is our chance to do rural development differently in East Texas.”