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Federal grant to polish skills of local workforce

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Aug. 22, 2003
Lenon Hopson, 36, is hoping to go back to work, learn and provide a service to his community all at the same time.
Hopson is one of several Meridian residents who came to the Meridian Housing Authority office on Thursday for more information on the AmeriCorps Rebuilds Mississippi Program, funded by a federal grant recently approved to provide job skills for local low-income residents who will in turn renovate and construct property for non-profit organizations.
The three-year grant, renewable annually, will provide about $255,000 each year to teach participants construction-related skills. People participating in the program must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma, a GED equivalent, or earn their GED within the first year of the program.
Louis Sutton Jr., president and chief professional officer of United Way of East Mississippi, said United Way will administer the grant locally through the Corporation of National and Community Service. The announcement of the grant approval was made during a news conference Thursday at the Meridian Housing Authority.
Members will receive a stipend of about $800 per month, health insurance, and child-care benefits during their term of service with AmeriCorps. They also will receive an Educational Award of $4,750 for each year of service.
Sutton said the benefits will not effect members' eligibility for any type of public assistance they already receive.
Sutton said plans are being finalized to use the program to help Multi-County Community Services Agency expand its weatherization program, which helps make houses more energy efficient.
He also said there are plans for participants to help build Lauderdale County Habitat for Humanity homes.
There are 20 positions available in the program annually.
Sutton said the grant is the first to come through a collaborative effort of a housing coalition formed about a year ago between United Way; Habitat for Humanity; Multi-County Community Services Agency; the Meridian Housing Authority, which submitted a required 25 percent cash match for the program; Mississippi Home Corps; the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and the Small Towns Center at Mississippi State University.
Participants in the program will be able to learn architectural design and community planning skills during their service activities. Mississippi State University's College of Architecture Fifth-year Program in Jackson, will provide technical assistance to the program by developing designs and working on-site during new home construction and the rehabilitation of existing housing. Participants also will receive training in hazard mitigation and emergency response planning from Meridian Community College's Emergency Service Degree Program.
Terrence Lawrence, 25, is another Meridian Housing Authority resident who wants to take advantage of the program because he said he wants to go into business for himself by opening a clothing store.