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Gov. Bob Riley discusses the formation of the Alabama Rural Action Commission at Calhoun Community College in Decatur on Tuesday. Region 1 will include North Alabama. Riley introduced the commission concept in the Black Belt in August 2004 as a way to help change the area's Third World image.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Gov. Bob Riley discusses the formation of the Alabama Rural Action Commission at Calhoun Community College in Decatur on Tuesday. Region 1 will include North Alabama. Riley introduced the commission concept in the Black Belt in August 2004 as a way to help change the area's Third World image.

Improving area lives
Program to help needy in rural North Alabama

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

If you live in a rural part of North Alabama, your child may have needed vision screening, but you couldn't get him to a doctor's office.

What if the doctor came to you?

This may seem impractical, but it's happening in other parts of the state, Gov. Bob Riley said.

Leaning on the success of a rural action program he started in the Black Belt, Riley kicked off a statewide campaign Tuesday at Calhoun Community College.

Jobs, education, health

The program, which volunteers will operate, is designed to improve health, education and job opportunities for North Alabama residents, especially those who live in rural areas.

"Look at North Alabama and forget about the rest of the state," Riley told the almost 200 people who attended the North Alabama Action Commission ceremony.

"Your challenge is to keep up with growth, while not losing the quality of life you have."

The North Alabama Action Commission Region 1 includes Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan and Winston counties.

This is one of eight regions in the state.

Former U.S. Rep. Ronnie Flippo of Florence is co-chairman of Alabama Rural Action Committee Region 1.

"This is one of the best things to happen in Alabama," he said.

"We need all the people we can get to make this work in North Alabama."

Riley introduced the commission concept in the Black Belt in August 2004 as a way to help change the area's Third World image.

With numbers to show the program has worked, the governor in November 2005 pledged to take the commission to other parts of the state.

While introducing the program Tuesday, Riley said the challenges in the Tennessee Valley are significantly different from those in the Black Belt.

"You have a foundation that the Black Belt couldn't dream of," the governor said.

Margaret Bentley of Alabama Power served as co-chairman of the Black Belt Action Commission.

She said four in 10 residents lived below the poverty level and unemployment was in the double digits.

Almost three years later, the unemployment rate is at 6 percent, 6,000 people have received vision screenings and a new transportation program is in place to get pregnant women and children to doctors' offices. The commission also started training programs to get residents entry-level jobs.

"All of this happened with volunteers and because someone asked," Riley said.

North Alabama is not as rural as the Black Belt, but there are areas where the commission can help.

In the education system, for example, curriculums differ depending on where students attend class. "If there is an area of North Alabama where there is no AP courses, this is not acceptable," Riley said.

The governor encouraged volunteers here to forget about county lines, municipal limits and Friday-night football rivalries.

"This area will have more economic growth than any region in the South for the next three years," Riley said. "How you address traffic, schools and growth will be important."

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