Auburn University In Alabama's Black Belt

Community & Economic Development

Extension Community Resource Development
ACES* has been actively involved in working with counties to explore ways to stimulate community and economic development. For example, ACES assisted with the Alabama-Mississippi Rural Tourism Conference and the Tuskegee and Macon County Tourism Plan. Currently, Community Resource Development (CRD) works with counties throughout the Black Belt region on community and economic development initiatives. Contact: Dr. Warren McCord, Alabama Cooperative Extension System at AU, (334) 844-4451.

Extension Health/Nutrition programs (NEP, FMNP)
The Alabama Cooperative Extension Nutrition Education Program (ACENEP) combines two highly successful nutrition education programs into a single initiative to strengthen nutrition education in the state. All counties located throughout the Black Belt is served by the program which focuses on both family and youth audiences with the goal of improving the total family diet. Contact: Dr. Barbara Struempler, Extension Specialist & Professor/ Nutrition and Food Science, (334) 844-2217.

Leadership Selma/Dallas County (1993)
Dr. William Sauser has conducted strategic planning workshops for Leadership Selma/Dallas County for over ten years. The four hour workshops gets participants involved in SWOT analysis of their county and planning for enhancements. Contact: Dr. Bill Sauser, Associate Dean Business and Engineering Outreach, (334) 844-2352.

Rural Studio (1993)
When many residents of the Black Belt (i.e., Hale County) think of a roof over their heads, a "warm, dry room" in which to survive the winter, a redesigned Family Service Center -- and the new playground behind it they think of Auburn University. These touchable, tangible outreach projects are the result of the AU College of Architecture, Design and Construction's Rural Studio. Located in the Hale County seat of Greensboro, the Rural Studio was established in 1993 with grants from the Alabama Power Foundation and Jessie Ball DuPont Fund. Each semester, since then, AU architecture students live at the Rural Studio gaining 'hands-on' experience in actual design and construction of housing. The innovative and affordable architectural endeavors have become known to many other people who live outside of Hale County. The Rural Studio and its late founder, Samuel Mockbee, have been showcased in the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, Architecture and Parade, as well as on national television (e.g., the Oprah Winfrey show).

Recognized and often hailed as a national model of teaching excellence, service learning, and university outreach, the Rural Studio has completed numerous restoration and construction projects in the Black Belt, one of the poorest regions in the U.S., with more than 1,400 substandard dwellings. Many grateful local residents have benefitted from the studio's work. Students meet and collaborate with the people who will live in the homes they will build. Many students, for the first time, see the effects of poverty on the lives of people who often have "slipped through the cracks" of social service agencies. For these students, the Rural Studio is a life-changing experience. The Rural Studio has inspired other Auburn programs to enter the region to initiate similar university-community partnerships. Recently, Auburn President William Walker announced the creation of a permanent fund for the Rural Studio, which previously operated on private support, assuring continuation of Professor Mockbee's pioneering work in West Alabama. Contact: Mr. Andrew Freerar, Associate Professor College of Architecture, (334) 624-3519.

Public Service Interns (1996)
Several of Auburn University's graduate students are provided internships through Auburn University Outreach to work in counties located in Alabama's Black Belt. Past internships have placed students with local governments, community development projects and economic development projects. The primary emphasis of these internships are to improve quality of life areas. Auburn University has supported public service internships in Wilcox County and Perry County. Contact: Office of the Vice President for University Outreach, (334) 844-5700.

Do Something Grants (1998)
In 1998, Auburn University's Office of the Vice President for University Outreach, supported five grant proposals from faculty members across campus to lead various so something initiatives in Alabama's Black Belt. The following five initiatives were supported: 1) Leadership Sumter County Program; 2) West Alabama Aquaculture Honors Program; 3) West Alabama Entrepreneurship & Leadership Program; 4) Gaining Access to Pharmacy Services; and 5) Grow Your Own Job. Contact: Office of the Vice President for University Outreach, (334) 844-5700.

Grow Your Own Job Initiative in Thomaston, Alabama (1998)
Developed from one of the "Do Something Grants, " this initiative has generated the following support: Received grants from the Forest Service Economic Recovery Grant (USDA) in the amount of $5,750.00 and the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation for $1500.00. Currently, there are several projects underway and/or have been completed. Examples of projects include: Working with the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel to showcase the Heritage Center; and Developed a Retail Gift Shop to plants, quilts, consignment items and pepper jelly.

The impact of this initiative has been enormous to the region. In 2002, sales receipts were approximately $30,000 at the Retail Gift Shop located in the once Vocational Building of Marengo County High School. Additionally, two grants were awarded in 2001-2002 as a result of the "Do Something Grant:" (1) USDA Community Food Projects Grant and (2) HUD Grant- $450,000.00 over 3 years (this grant was awarded to assist with renovations and equipping the proposed jelly kitchen and vegetable processing operation). Contact: Dr. Robin Fellers, Associate Professor/Nutrition and Food Science, (334) 844-3270.

Architectural Plans (1999)
The Center for Architecture and Urban Studies, housed in Auburn University's College of Architecture, developed plans for the city of Marion located in Perry County. This plans primarily consisted of architectural designs and layout for this city. Contact: Dr. Cheryl Morgan, Professor College of Architecture, (205) 323-3592.

Southeastern Cheese (1999)
This project was conducted in Uniontown, Alabama, by ATN-AU or ATAC. The project was designed to assist Southeastern Cheese with improving production and increasing its employee base. Types of assistance and impact this project has yielded include: (1) Plant Feasibility Study- this study looked at the feasibility of a plant addition for producing speciality cheese which would make a higher profit; (2) QuickBooks and Spreadsheet Assistance- Implementation of this accounting system assisted helped Southeastern Cheese more accurately capture production cost; (3) Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)- As required by customers this was developed; and (4) New Product Development- This project looked at developing more profitable cheese. Contact: Mr. Clint LeNoir, Management Scientist ATN-AU, (334) 844-3890.

Uniontown, Alabama (1999 - present)
Auburn University has been actively involved in Uniontown, Alabama, for several years. In 1999, several representatives of Auburn University worked with the City of Uniontown on developing strategy for growth. Following the strategy for growth, Auburn University became a recipient of a three year HUD grant (i.e., HUD's Community Outreach Partnership Center) in the amount of $382,000. The primary purpose of this grant is to establish a model for delivering an array of outreach services in a coordinated manner to rural areas in the state. The project is managed by Auburn University's Economic Development Institute. Internal partners (i.e, at Auburn University) that are involved in this project are Student Affairs, the Center for Governmental Services and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. External partners are Tuskegee University, the University of Alabama and Design Corps, Inc.

The following six projects are currently being performed in Uniontown, Alabama: (1) AU Graduate Student Mentoring/Tutoring Project for R. C. Hatch High School; (2) Community Leadership Development Program; (3) Civic Infrastructure Development: Municipal Personnel and Budgeting Systems (Center for Governmental Services (CGS), Auburn University); (4) Small Business Assistance; (5) Uniontown Economic Profile (The University Center for Economic Development (UCED), University of Alabama); and (6) Landscaping and Security Lighting Plans/Sidewalk Network Plans (Design Corps, a non-profit organization created to provide architectural, planning and design services to community organizations and individuals). Contact: Dr. Joe Sumners, Director Economic Development Institute, (334) 844-4704.

"Uniontown Cares" (2001)
As part of a Civil Economics Research Project funded by the Kettering Foundation, Auburn University Outreach, particularly the Economic Development Institute, has worked with the City of Uniontown, Alabama, located in Perry County, for several years on exploring ways to initiate community development and stimulate economic development. This project has proven beneficial to this community in a number of ways, however, known is more noteworthy than community harmony (i.e, race relations). Residents from all segments of the community have come together to develop strategies to improve the quality of life in Uniontown. This commitment to improving their quality of life has served as the driving force behind the development of a small community group.

In May of 2001, a group of concerned citizens living in Uniontown, with assistance of representatives from Auburn University, formed a community group called "Uniontown Cares". Since the inception of this group, members have worked tirelessly on projects aimed at improving the image, conditions and race relations in this city. Projects have ranged from cleaning up parks and playgrounds to developing a web-page for the City of Uniontown. The web page address is Also, it should be noted that the mayor of Uniontown has praised the group for its efforts and continuously worked with and offered assistance to group projects that will benefit the city.

Contacts: Dr. Joe Sumners, Director of Economic Development Institute, (334) 844-4704, Dr. Christa Slaton, Professor Political Science, (334) 844-6123, Mr. Jeremy Arthur, Outreach Associate EDI, (334) 844-4704, Dr. Robert Montjoy, Assistant Vice President for University Outreach, (334) 844-5700 and Dr. Royrickers Cook, Assistant Vice President for University Outreach, (334) 844-5700.

Black Belt Regional Education and Economic Development Foundation (1999 - present)
In 1999, Auburn University's Office of the Vice President for University Outreach, commenced planning for a Black Belt Regional Education and Economic Development Foundation. Patterned after the Foundation for the Mid-South, the proposed development of the Black Belt Regional Education and Economic Development Foundation was put forth to address the critical needs of a twelve-county region. These needs were improved education, economic development and community development and grassroots leadership development.

Simultaneously, with this development at Auburn University, a group of community leaders in the Black Belt were making plans for the development of a community foundation. When this development became known to Auburn University, the university agreed to work in partnership with residents of the Black Belt on planning this initiative. Dr. David Wilson, Vice President for University Outreach and Associate Provost at Auburn University, serves as a member of the newly named Black Belt Regional Foundation. This Foundation has received a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to conduct the preliminary planning to bring this entity into existence. It is the expectation of the committee that there will be a functioning community organization covering the Black Belt region in the not so distant future. Contact: Dr. David Wilson, Vice President for University Outreach, (334) 844-5700.

Center for Governmental Services Training & Technical Assistance (2001 - present)
The Center for Governmental Services (CGS) provides training and professional development services of benefit to Black Belt counties in Alabama. Training for county commissioners, tax accessors, tax administrators, sales tax examiners, public personnel administrators, mappers and others. In January of 2001, certifications were awarded to 26 Alabama Black Belt county commissioners in recognition of their successful completion of CGS's 5-course 50-hour education program.

In 2002, CGS, working with the Alabama Rural Water Association, has conducted training courses for county commissioners in Monroeville and Selma. Training courses have also been conducted for rural water utility professionals and board members in Demopolis and Monroeville that have involved over 200 rural water utility professionals in extensive management and administrative training. Additionally, over the past three years, CGS has conducted extensive and intensive technical assistance programs in Alabama Black Belt communities to develop or modernize the governmental personnel practices in these communities, including job description, pay and classification plans, performance appraisal, policies and procedures. Contact: Dr. Jim Seroka, Director Center for Governmental Services, (334) 844-4781.

Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Technical Assistance for Distressed Counties
This project assists two economically distressed ARC communities in Alabama (Hale and Pickens counties). Assistance includes developing a strategic economic development plan for each community, preparing two grant proposals on behalf of communities to help support a project aligned with one of ARC's five strategic goal areas and helping communities establish effective mentoring relationships with successful ARC communities. Contacts: Dr. Joe Sumners, Director EDI, Mr. Mike Easterwood, Outreach Associate and Mr. Jeremy Arthur, Outreach Associate, (334) 844-4704.

Youth Leadership (2002 - present)
The Center for Architecture and Urban Studies, housed in Auburn University's College of Architecture, Design and Construction, is currently working in conjunction with the Appalachian Regional Commission on youth leadership programs in Hale County and Bibb County. This initiative is design to assist youths from these counties with understanding the importance of leadership and how to become successful leaders. Contact: Dr. Cheryl Morgan, Professor College of Architecture, (205) 323-3592.

*Alabama Cooperative Extension System


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Website last updated on August 30, 2010.