Gulf-Coast Nonprofit Leaders Call for Ongoing Donations

Suzanne Perry
Date Published: 
April 19, 2007


New Orleans

Representatives of grass-roots and advocacy groups that are helping people to recover from the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita vowed at a meeting here last week to join forces to rally the nation to rebuild the Gulf Coast in an equitable way.

"The region is slipping deeper and deeper every day back into invisibility," said Derrick Evans, executive director of Turkey Creek Community Initiatives, a group that is working to revitalize a historic African-American area near Gulfport, Miss. "We are the hope."

The meeting brought together for the first time representatives of groups that have received grants from the Gulf Coast Fund, a project set up in September 2005 — just weeks after Katrina hit — to channel money from foundations and other donors to small nonprofit groups trying to rebuild New Orleans and other storm-ravaged regions.

Those areas continue to suffer from a lack of affordable housing, institutional racism, exploitation of workers, environmental hazards, and other problems, and the time is ripe to solicit help from policymakers, presidential candidates, grant makers, the news media, and average people, participants said.

"The public's behind us, and they have been since day one," said Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, in Durham, N.C., citing polls that indicate most Americans think the federal government responded poorly to the storms. "But they haven't known how they can respond."

Participants said last fall's midterm elections, which gave Democrats control of Congress, signaled that the public was moving away from political conservatism, and that local organizers should seize the chance to revive the kind of networks that were active in the South during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

"This is an opportunity to push the scales back in the other direction," said Stephen Bradberry, head organizer for the Louisiana chapter of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. "The energy is there for a movement to occur."

$1-Million in Grants

The Gulf Coast Fund — which is operated by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a nonprofit group in New York that manages giving programs — was created by a group of foundations and nonprofit leaders who wanted to ensure that grass-roots organizations, especially those helping vulnerable people such as African-Americans and immigrants, were involved in shaping the post-hurricane reconstruction efforts. It has awarded just over $1-million to 78 groups in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas since September 2005.

The project introduced an innovative "community based" philanthropic model, setting up a 21-member committee of local activists to advise Rocke