Mid-East Commission shares Golden LEAF funding experiences with Community-Based Grants Initiative Gathering attendees | Beaufort County Now | On April 19th, the Golden LEAF Foundation held a gathering in Jacksonville, N.C., for organizations interested in learning about the Golden LEAF Community-Based Grants Initiative, currently active in the Southeast Prosperity Zone.

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    On April 19th, the Golden LEAF Foundation held a gathering in Jacksonville, N.C., for organizations interested in learning about the Golden LEAF Community-Based Grants Initiative, currently active in the Southeast Prosperity Zone. As part of the gathering, breakout sessions were held on each Golden LEAF priority area: Job Creation and Economic Investment, Workforce Preparedness, and Agriculture. The gathering also featured project development sessions and a panel of recipients of Golden LEAF funding.

    The panel included representatives of the Mid-East Commission, Fayetteville Area Health Foundation and Wayne County Executive Jetport.

    In 2019, the Golden LEAF Board awarded the Mid-East Commission $641,400 through the Community-Based Grants Initiative in the Northeast Prosperity Zone for its Regional Advanced Manufacturing Pipeline East project, more commonly known as RAMP East. RAMP East is a regional project that is assisting advanced manufacturing companies located in Beaufort, Bertie, Martin, Hertford, Pitt, and Hyde counties to address the critical shortage of available skilled workers. The core components include externships, technology training, site visits to local industries, industry tours for students and teachers, and sponsorship of regional job fairs.

    Jennie Bowen, Region Q Workforce Development Director at the Mid-East Commission, shared her experiences with working on the application for the RAMP East project.

    "For the application process, you need partner support letters, showing that the business and industry is really at the table," said Bowen. "In fact, at our due diligence meeting, there was strong support from local employers."

    Bowden mentioned that with the project implementation, strong reporting accountability is a given.

    "We had been tracking some data," said Bowden. "We had to look at exactly what reports can give you the specific information you are looking for. When you compile information from different sources, you need to know how to best track that information. You need to make sure that your partners are willing to stay engaged to best keep the project moving and to report outcomes accurately and efficiently."

    Bowden also added that a big part of project management includes the financial tracking of the project.

    "Financial tracking is very detailed," said Bowden. "You need sound financial systems in place."

    The implementation plan for RAMP East included in-person meetings and training sessions. COVID restrictions interrupted the plan.

    "Nothing works quite like you plan for it to, but the result is often greater than the expectation," said Bowden. "We've had many setbacks but each time we learn something that serves to strengthen the program we are building in ways that we might not have considered otherwise."

    Golden LEAF can work with funded projects on modifications, like in the case of allowing funding for in-person to virtual training sessions due to COVID restrictions, said Bowden.

    "We had students and teachers out of school because of COVID protocols," said Bowen. "We went back to Golden LEAF with funding modifications to look at other resources we could use for a virtual delivery. We changed our student, teacher, and parent in-person tours to live streams. We also modified our plan post COVID from externships and technology training for teachers to the creation of Rivers East Academy, which will provide every participating high school teacher the ability to receive the same basic information, and the opportunity to explore specific areas of manufacturing through additional sessions."

    The changes from all in-person training sessions and meetings to virtual and hybrid training sessions and meetings have allowed even more students and teachers to participate in RAMP East.

    Other successes include relationship building.

    "We are connected with a national organization, SkillsUSA, with a focus on something we know is important to employers - employability skills - and integrating those skills into the conversations and explorations of local training programs and careers," said Bowden. "This project has resulted in local teams of people from a variety of backgrounds collaborating on creating county-specific materials. We have also developed a series of livestream events focused on local industry and opportunities, moderated by local economic developers."
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