LEAF finds consensus

Published 1:20 am Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Semantics is the study of meaning: how words, phrases, sentences carefully aligned can create an impression, yet narrow a field of interpretation.
Semantics was the primary mission at the Golden LEAF Foundation’s Community Assistance Initiative meeting Thursday, as community leaders met at Beaufort County Community College to discuss, dissect and debate their words one last time before those words became the guidelines by which proposals for $2 million in grant money would be considered.
The money, part of North Carolina’s share of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between 46 states and the tobacco industry, has been set aside by Golden LEAF’s Community Assistance Initiative for Beaufort County during the current grant cycle. In the past four months, representatives from the county’s government and nonprofit entities have worked together to determine where Beaufort County’s funding priorities lie. Through a process of elimination and streamlining, those priorities were decided during previous meetings: economic development and infrastructure, education and workforce development and health and wellness. Thursday’s meeting saw the final opportunity to hone precise phrasing that would frame proposal guidelines.
Calvin Allen, program officer for Golden LEAF and one of the key facilitators for the grant-writing process, first asked the assembled group to vote on the rough descriptions of the guidelines using a scale of zero to five, with five denoting perfection, and zero reflecting phrasing that “does not work at all.”
The hands, and digits, raised reflected relative satisfaction but fell short of the consensus Allen and Pat Cabe, vice president of programs for Golden LEAF, were looking to achieve.
As in the Dec. 8 meeting, participants were asked to split into groups representing the three set funding priorities. Each person taking part in the Community Assistance Initiative process has been there on behalf of an organization — all of them in search of funding, all of them with a vested interest in determining the standards by which their requests would be measured.
For those working on the economic development and infrastructure segment, the focus was on phrasing, debate over word choice — utilizing, developing, growing or protecting resources.
“It’s really easy to get caught in the weeds,” advised Allen.
Discussions of the meaning of industry; of red tape; the use, and overuse, of semicolons; and whether cultural is as broad a term as multicultural, were all hammered out, until the group, as a whole, had reached consensus.
The groups reconvened and another hand vote determined each group was satisfied with the criteria by which their organization would apply for funds — consensus.
“The last year in Raleigh, we haven’t had nearly as much consensus as I’ve seen in this room,” said state Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, who has attended all of the Community Assistance Initiative meetings.
The requests for proposals, framed by the community leaders who had participated in the months-long process, were sent out Friday. The deadline for proposals submitted by nonprofits and government entities is Feb. 10.
On Feb. 23, Cabe and Dan Gerlach, Golden LEAF president, will return with proposals in hand to provide feedback as to whether each proposal measures up to the community-developed guidelines, and how the Golden LEAF board, which ultimately decides the fate of the $2 million, will respond.
“Though we do not speak, nor would we ever speak for our board of directors,” said Cabe. “We can tell you what they might think.”