Riley launches ARAC: Initiative modeled after Black Belt Action Commission

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 14, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

The successes of the Black Belt Action Commission (BBAC) has prompted Gov. Bob Riley and other leaders to launch the Alabama Rural Action Commission (ARAC), an initiative to improve the quality of life in the state’s rural communities.

An ARAC kickoff event was held last week at the state capitol, where Riley urged newly appointed members to align its mission with the BBAC, which was established by Riley in 2004.

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“The ‘action commission’ model is a proven success in the Black Belt. Now we will replicate this model statewide and bring more progress to Alabama’s rural communities,” Riley said. “And just like Black Belt Action Commission, the Rural Action Commission is open to every citizen who wants to help.”

Former State Senator Gerald Dial, D-Lineville, serves as ARAC executive director, and Riley has appointed State Banking Superintendent John Harrison and Margaret Bentley of the Alabama Power Company as ARAC co-chairs.

Bentley, who also serves as BBAC co-chair with State Senator Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said eight action commissions, including the BBAC, are now under the umbrella of the ARAC. Bentley said other rural areas are experiencing the same problems as Black Belt counties, and the ARAC will target four key areas – education, health, economic development and workforce development.

“We know what the needs are. We just need to act and leverage resources,” Bentley said on Monday. “There are a lot of opportunities out there for regional partnerships and bringing people together and that’s what I saw happen over and over again in the Black Belt Action Commission.”

Bentley has no doubt the ARAC will be just as successful as the BBAC. The commission’s efforts has led to the creation of more than 1,200 jobs in 12 Black Belt counties and the addition of 40 free computers in Black Belt school systems. In addition, approximately 15,000 Black Belt adults and children have received free eye vision screenings and approximately 2,700 adults and children received free eyeglasses and follow-up eye care.

The commission has also hosted several health fairs, grant writing seminars and youth events, Bentley said.

The BBAC’s new alliance with the ARAC, Bentley believes, will open up the lines of communication between Black Belt counties and rural communities throughout the state, allowing leaders to share ideas for progress.

“The Black Belt Commission will be a part of a statewide group, giving us the opportunity to establish many more partnerships and leverage more resources,” Bentley said.

“I take great delight in the progress the BBAC has made and in knowing that the willingness and talent is here in this state to do a lot more,” Bentley added. “I’m excited about the new Alabama Rural Action Commission and even more excited about the people who will be carrying it out.”

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