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Coalition is on the right track

By By James Crawford
News Editor
I've said before in this column there are many things I like about living in Atmore. The people are without a doubt at the top of that list. Saturday morning I was reminded once again how committed some of those people are to the continued growth of this charming community when I attended the forum meeting of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County.
The meeting, held at the Atmore Hospital, came a bit earlier than I'm used to – 7 a.m. to be exact – but instead of worrying about waking up so early, I found myself knee-deep in some very thoughtful conversation about where this town is; where its going; or to put it bluntly, where it might not be going.
The roll call listed about 26 folks in attendance, including several familiar names to area citizens. Jefferson Davis Community College's Susan McBride was on hand and had many good things to say about Atmore and her school's strides in trying to develop programs for students to become involved in.
She also pointed out several shortcomings that could affect those programs and – like the twitch you feel when a CD has a scratch on it and sticks – the subject turned back again to money, or the lack of it, and the fact that because of the funding shortage no one would have much of anything soon.
McBride lamented on how JDCC is facing a funding cut this upcoming year equal to the amount of cuts it faced last year, and with increased costs spoke out about how hard it will be to maintain what she has going. The key word here is MAINTAIN.
Not enhance. Not increase programs. Not improve curriculums. Not develop new job programs. But instead maintain and to do that just barely.
She went on to say that she had no idea how Buck Powell was managing to do it on his end with all the restrictions he faces and being hamstrung by the state at every turn. I don't know how he does it either and I'm smart enough to know I'm not smart enough to try his job for all the peanuts in the world, and I love peanuts.
The five main categories that were to be identified at the meeting were economic development, education, affordable health care, youth initiatives, access to all county programs and a few others. Yes, I did say there were five top categories to be identified but they didn't stop there. The reason they didn't stop is because they couldn't stop. There are simply too many problems that need to be addressed right now that can't wait.
The general consensus seemed to be that economic development is the top priority and the aftermath of getting new jobs in will have a trickle-down affect on the rest of the shortcoming.
I agree with that in principal but you can't solve everything by throwing money at it, and not every problem will go away just by having more money in hand. You have to spend the money wisely and develop wisely. There has to be a positive attitude ABOUT Atmore, and I think the coalition is a great starting point to getting this accomplished.
Another dignitary on hand was Poarch Creek's Eddie Tullis. I've met Tullis on only one occasion before Saturday, when I first arrived in town and sat in on a meeting between him and the county commission.
Tullis spoke about the kids in the city and the need to develop programs for them to participate in after school and in the summer. He also talked about developing initiatives to lure the kids back to Atmore after they've completed college.
I think Tullis' ideas about getting the kids to come back are completely on track. He made a promise that, within the next few years, there would be an Indian doctor on staff at Poarch that was from Atmore. Talent developed from the area will be talent that will return to the area. I have every confidence that he will do just that.
Like I said, I have only met him once before in person but the man has a very powerful demeanor about him and you just can't help but to get the impression he knows what he's talking about.
The city might do well to take the same initiative and develop a scholarship program of some sort to help pay for some of these kids to go to school with the promise they'll return for a set number of years. I know there are several program of that type in Tuscaloosa. They took years to reap the benefits but then time really is all we have left.
These were just a couple of the many ideas that came about from the general discussion that at the meeting. The coalition group seems to be a great idea and was, even at the wee hour of 7 a.m., a great way to get the ideas flowing between the people gathered there.
The group has meetings each month and I hope that if you get the opportunity to attend one, you do. I found the meeting to be a great eye-opener and the folks gathered there to be the kind of people who can turn the cities plight around if given the chance and the support of the general citizenry. There are those who want to see change occur here in Atmore. It's up to us to join them or sit on the couch and watch what happens.
James Crawford is News Editor of The Atmore Advance. His column appears on Wednesdays.