June 11, 2018 10:42:17 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Kay Brocato called it "serendipitous." Bishop Lawrence White considered it a small act of providence.
Whichever term you prefer, the result was the same. For residents of Starkville's Pecan Acres, it meant another opportunity to have their voices heard.
Residents of the low-income federal housing development on Highway 12 may find themselves moving as a result of a proposed land swap and development plan by a private developer. The plan would relocate Pecan Acres residents to yet-to-be developed property on Highway 182 west of Reed Road.
Saturday morning, members of the Church of the Living God who were in town for the church's regional conference fanned out through the Pecan Acres development on Highway 12, conducting surveys that will be shared with the Starkville Housing Authority.
The effort started with a casual conversation over lunch Friday between White and Brocato, an assistant professor at Mississippi State who is active in community outreach.
"I was having lunch and I noticed all these kids," Brocato said. "Well, I love kids, so I started talking to them. Then, I started talking to the ladies with them and finally, the bishop came over and I started talking to him."
White, the presiding Bishop of the region - which includes Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina - had a problem and the clock was ticking.
Part of the church's week-long regional conference requires conference members participate in a community service project of some sort. But by Friday, just three days before the conference was to end, White said he still didn't have a good idea for one.
Brocato, who had attended recent meetings of Pecan Acres residents as they discussed their potential relocation, certainly had an idea.
"I convinced him that community engagement is a form of community service, too," she said. "It didn't take much convincing. I was amazed. In a few hours, they had developed survey questions, formed teams and had a plan together. I wish I had a research team that good."
Although residents were given a chance to voice their concerns to the Starkville Housing Authority in a May 24 meeting, both Brocato and White said there is a need for continuing dialogue. The survey, White said, was a way of learning what issues still concern Pecan Acres residents.
"We'll take the survey and present it to the Housing Authority, and hopefully they'll consider what the people are saying as the process goes forward."
The five-question survey asked residents how long they had lived in Pecan Acres, if they were content with their living situation, if they knew about the relocation plan and if they wanted to relocate. It also asked residents to provide insight on their wishes about the future of Pecan Acres.
White said communication between the Housing Authority, the developer and the residents should be a continuing process.
"People in their situation need to feel like they have a say and some measure of control over the situation," he said. "It shouldn't be, 'This is what we've decided. What questions do you have?' It should be, 'What questions do you have and let's see if we can find a way to make decisions that answer those questions?'"
Survey distribution was completed in about three hours -- during which conference members visited each of the roughly 50 residents in the 70,000 square-foot housing development.
"For us, it's not only a way to help in this situation, it's a way to re-introduce the church to the community," White said. "It's a way to let them know that we are not only concerned citizens, but a resource that is available to them."
White did not specify a time line for when surveys will be submitted to the Housing Authority.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]