Extension helps communities develop

Linda Benedict, Bogren, Richard C.  |  6/9/2014 9:36:56 PM

Rick Bogren

During a 15-year period, from 1994 to 2009, the LSU AgCenter conducted 29 classes in the Community Leadership and Economic Development program with more than 1,000 graduates. Partners included the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, the Association of Louisiana’s Electric Cooperatives and the Louisiana Police Jury Association. Local chambers of commerce, economic development councils and local officials, along with other utility companies and businesses provided resources.

The program, known within the AgCenter as CLED, was designed to provide local volunteers with leadership skills they could use to improve their local economy and make their communities better places to live. Topics covered included communication, team building and the local history, demographics and the economics of the parish.

“The 10-week class was designed to teach leadership skills and provide an opportunity to put those skills to use,” said Sanford Dooley, extension community development specialist, who retired in 2009. He conducted the program along with Karen Overstreet, who at that time was also a community development specialist. She is now the associate department head for 4-H and Youth Development.

“The program differed from others in that the emphasis was on community involvement rather than identified leaders,” Overstreet said. “Anyone who lived in the community or parish and was willing to make the commitment was invited to participate.”

During the program, the participants were to identify issues and then prioritize them. Finally, they would establish committees of six to seven participants for each issue and develop plans to address them.

An evaluation of the program showed that more than a third of the participants went on to hold either elected or appointed positions in their communities. Other results included the following:
• Organizing a farmer’s market.
• Adding a student to the local library board as a solution to the limited involvement of teenagers.
• Organizing a group to recruit industry to the parish.
• Starting a recycling program.
• Establishing a zoning commission.

In 2005, the program was presented the Excellence in Economic Development Best Practices Award by the International Economic Development Council.

Rick Bogren is a professor and science writer in LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article was published in the spring 2014 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

 

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