Community conversations focus on future progress

Published 10:38 am Monday, September 22, 2014

A group of seven panelists from various fields in Washington Parish Wednesday kicked around ways to improve the quality of life in the parish, aspirations for their community and roadblocks toward reaching those goals during a Community Conversation at the Washington Parish Economic Development Office in Franklinton.

The event was hosted by United Way of Southeast Louisiana. United Way of Southeast Louisiana Executive Vice President Beth Terry moderated the event and kept the panelists thinking by asking pointed questions throughout the discussion.

Panelists included Washington Parish Librarian Al Barron, Washington Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Ryan Seal, Michelle Palmer with Lutheran Disaster Services, Parish Homeland Security Director Tommy Thiebaud, Franklinton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Crain and Clerk of Court employees Myrna Schilling and Susan Felker.

A common theme among the panelists was a return to the simpler life like when they were growing up.

“I want a community where my kids and grandkids can live here and be profitable one panelist said. “Without young people, we’re not going to be a community. The traditional values is a charm of the community.”

Another panelist agreed.

“The thing I miss most from my high school years are the dairy farms,” he said. “It’s nice to look at cows standing in the field. We want to maintain that, but get economic development, also.”

One panelist said he felt the public school system is partly responsible for area’s woes.

“If we look at things within a 150-mile radius of where we are, you’ll see St. Tammany, Livingston, Ascension parishes and Zachary’s schools are thriving. Education for the families you want to attract to the area is vital,” he said. “When you have education growth, you have more people to pay taxes.”

A panelist brought up the lack of community centers in her area.

“We’re losing out so much by not having a place to go,” she said. “Our children and grandchildren deserve a place to go play ball. In Washington Parish, we need to help family-oriented activities.”

Panelists blamed drugs, lack of family values, mistrust of politicians and other problems for hindering growth.

“You’ve got to create an environment where families want to live and can do business here,” a panelist said.

“People have to value education at home first,” another panelist said. “It has to start at home. People like rural areas. They just don’t want new people moving in.”

One panelist said being poor is more of a state of mind.

“Poor is more of a mentality,” he said. “Today, it’s all about what type of gaming system you have.”

Solutions to some of the problems panelists discussed included more recreational opportunities, area food banks modeled after successful food banks in the region and improved mental health and drug treatment facilities and balancing rural living and economic growth.