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Blog: Making a Difference on the Gulf Coast

Jan 31, 2011 | By Casey Schoeneberger

When President Obama said last week that Americans do big things, I imagine he was talking about organizations like The Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Justice. The individuals who operate The Gulf Coast Fund (GCF) and their advisors and grantees, do BIG things. Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, GCF has awarded over four million dollars in grants to 200 organizations throughout Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida in an effort to restore dignity to the residents of the Gulf Coast. According to the organization, from the beginning the fund has been about so much more than disaster response—it has been about the underlying conditions that allowed such devastating long-term consequences to result from these disasters.

Potential grantees submit applications for projects that promote justice and Gulf Coast restoration. A panel of advisors (fishermen, activists and local residents) scrutinizes all applications, for which one of the requirements is that each project is self-determined by local residents. The GCF is not looking to make sure that each application is perfect, but that each project works to heal the devastation and emotional trauma that these disasters have caused. Advisors who review grant applications describe themselves as an “…ear and a pulse in the region following Katrina and Rita and all the disasters that have followed.” Due to obvious funding constraints, only about 1 in 3 grant applications are funded. Here are just a few examples of past projects that have been funded by the GCF (a full list of past projects is available here):

Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, Biloxi, MS $20,000

To conduct a series of audits to determine if housing discrimination based on race, familial status

or disability have increased in the wake of Katrina; to implement the Hurricane Relief Project to enable homeowners facing disclosure as a result of the hurricane to stay in their homes.

Focusing Our Communities Upon Sustainability (FOCUS), Pascagoula, MS $25,000

Serving the low-income, predominantly African-American city of Moss Point, mobilizing residents to have direct input into the city’s redevelopment after Katrina and ensure that residents’ self-identified priorities are addressed.

Community Advocacy, Research and Education, Inc., Ridgeland, MS $15,000

To increase access to mental health services in the underserved populations of MS by conducting

research and education in the area of disaster mental health and working with residents on how to access resources and achieve and maintain mental well-being.

The GCF does not have an endowment but manages to make their relatively small amount of funding go far. It is not difficult to imagine that the Gulf Coast is not a high priority for major philanthropic organizations, and despite media fatigue on issues surrounding the Gulf Coast, the GCF continues to leverage funding for new and innovative ways to empower residents of the Gulf Coast.  As Annie Ducmanis, Program and Grant Manager explained, the GCF is making the attempt to move the needle towards justice and giving communities the tools to prepare and better respond to future disasters.

If you would like to learn more about organizations and individuals doing big things on the Gulf Coast, check out The Gulf Coast Fund.