Residents in district two of the city of Leesville gathered together at the Martin Luther King Community Center to listen and ask questions in regards to the "Choice Neighborhood Initiative" grant led by Marvin Haynes, president of the Action Agency of Vernon, Inc., who is currently working behind the scenes to get $30 million in grant money to revitalize the district.

So far, the plan is that once they receive the funding, Haynes said they want to build 100 multi-family housing units, 50 single family units, possibly a park or playground, a senior center, a strip center with about six units, sidewalks as well as repair the streets. Over the next six months, Haynes said they will be holding community meetings in order for residents to give their input on what they would like seen done in their district.


Residents in district two of the city of Leesville gathered together at the Martin Luther King Community Center to listen and ask questions in regards to the "Choice Neighborhood Initiative" grant led by Marvin Haynes, president of the Action Agency of Vernon, Inc., who is currently working behind the scenes to get $30 million in grant money to revitalize the district.
So far, the plan is that once they receive the funding, Haynes said they want to build 100 multi-family housing units, 50 single family units, possibly a park or playground, a senior center, a strip center with about six units, sidewalks as well as repair the streets. Over the next six months, Haynes said they will be holding community meetings in order for residents to give their input on what they would like seen done in their district.
Since it is highly competitive to get a grant, Haynes said they hope to know more about the grant with the next year and a half.
Clarence Hawkins, state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, also attended the meeting to introduce their programs and services to make residents aware of ways they can help the community.
"Many people laugh when I say this, but the government is here to help you," he said.
His particular department is a lending agency that makes loans to individuals, organizations and government agencies to assist in those things that they cannot do for themselves, Hawkins said. He also said that when the community needs certain funds, the government will help them, but since grants come from taxpayers, in order to have more grants, taxes would have to increase as well.
"Your government can help you," he said. "But in many cases, there's a cost."
Reinette Foster, area director of the USDA Rural Development, explained affordable housing options through several loan programs. According to Foster, someone with an income of $24,000 a year could qualify for a $140,000 house loan, which gives the individual private ownership. There is also a grant program they offer to seniors over the age of 62 to help with repairs, such as fixing a leaking roof, that only has a one percent fixed interest rate.
In order to qualify for these programs, Foster said good credit is a must, and on the first Thursday of every month at their office, located on Fifth Street in Leesville, they offer credit counseling and help to pre-qualify for these loans.
"This place is near and dear to my heart," she said. "I would really like to see this place expand."
Also from the USDA Rural Development were Tony Matlock and Lee Jones, who explained different loans and grant funding available for community facilities, water and environment projects, non-profits as well as a Business and Industry Program.
Carl Wright, dean of the College of Business at Grambling State University, attended the meeting to offer advice to small business owners within the community. He said they need to be willing to take risks in order to be "on top of the game" to make a difference in their community, and that as times change, it is "okay" to change as well to meet customers' demands. Although there are risks associated with small business development, Wright encouraged residents to be creative, innovative and more productive and to get more people involved to help expand the community.
"You are the backbone of this country," he said. "You make the difference in Leesville."
Although Leesville Mayor Robert Rose attended the meeting, he was not prepared to speak but residents had questions concerning current projects throughout the city. Rose addressed why the city decided to start with repairing the water and sewer lines first, explaining that the failing systems were costing the city so much in lost revenue and that now, with the water surplus from the increased water and sewer rates, the city has generated enough money to qualify for a $12 million loan to help with other needs.
Rose also addressed the Highway 467 Vernon/Fort Polk Strategy project, that initially began five years ago, and why it is important. He said many ask why there is not a Chili's restaurant or an Old Navy clothing store or other department stores and that the reason is because there are not enough people in Leesville alone nor Fort Polk.
"If we fill in between, then we start having the density that they want," he said.
The project does not just include La. 467, Rose said, and there is a "very significant" piece that includes district two. At the roundabout by Market Basket, the road that goes to "nowhere" is part of the plan to continue south through Leesville, all the way down to Boone Street by Lowes, Rose said, which will open up that entire section of the city.
"I know you might get disgusted with the city but your need is just one need," Hawkins said. "They have to make the best decisions for the entire community."
Councilwoman Willie Mae Kennedy (district two) encourages residents to attend these community meetings so that they can be heard and come together. Kennedy stated that the community is growing and getting things done, and that there are plans in the works to receive 20 computers in June to the community center as well as equipment for the playground.
"We are all in this together," she said. "I'm willing to do my part."