Rural Gateway Case Studies

Community Students Learning Center (CSLC) Rural Innovation Fund (RIF) Comprehensive Project

Project Summary

  • FY 2011 Grant Award: $1,974,462
  • Grant Category: Comprehensive
  • Applicant Type: Nonprofit
  • Grant Activities:
    • Job and small business training
    • Business incubator
    • New housing construction
    • Green housing rehabilitation
    • Fair housing education
  • Projected Impact:
    • Job creation: 150
    • Job training participants: 150
    • Small business training participants: 20
    • New microenterprises: 5
    • New housing construction: 5
    • Rehabilitated homes: 5
    • Individuals receiving fair housing education: 300


Lexington, Mississippi map

Lexington, Mississippi

Key Outcomes

  • Construction of 5 new homes
  • Rehabilitation of 5 substandard homes
  • Creation of a business incubator
  • Job training to more than 230 adults and youth


Ms. Beulah Greer
Executive Director
Community Student Learning Center
(622) 834-0905
Community Student Learning Website

Community Description

Lexington is located in the Mississippi Delta and is the county seat for Holmes County. The city’s population is 1,573, with a total county population of 19,000. Cotton was the original crop of the region during and around the time of the Civil War, after which it shifted into other agriculture. However, the region has seen a steep decline beginning in 1940 with industrial agriculture and continuing through the migration of southern African-Americans to other parts of the country and industry. The predominant population in the area is still African-American, however, with 38 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The median household income is $22,163 and 54.5 percent of the population is below the age of 18. A Nissan plant recently moved into the area, bringing with it the promise of new jobs.

The Organization

CSLC is a nonprofit founded by Leslie and Beulah Greer in the early 2000s. Its mission is to promote community and educational change by providing state-of-the-art leadership development and personal improvement opportunities for youth, adults, and seniors in Holmes County, Mississippi. Its programs and services encompass many disciplines, including:

  • Housing rehabilitation, new construction homeownership, and counseling services
  • Entrepreneurship services with business plan writing, small business development, and grant writing
  • A technology center with business incubator space, a computer lab, printing services, equipment, and room rental
  • After-school tutoring, enrichment and agriculture youth programs, summer camps, scholarships
  • Health awareness
  • Justice bail bonding

It also supports several specific grant-funded programs, such as Mississippi Parent Information and Resource Center; Assistance for Rural Intervention Strategies Empowerment, a domestic violence education program; Strategic Tactics of Obesity Reduction in Youth!; Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters; and Empowering the Delta with a Growing Economy (EDGE), the program supported by the RIF grant.

Project Overview

CSLC’s RIF grant was for EDGE, a project in which CSLC partnered with community, business, and government agencies to implement a multifaceted approach to generate jobs and provide job training, housing counseling, housing, and entrepreneurism to the community, building a foundation for overcoming poverty and developing self-sufficiency.

EDGE program components included:

  • Job training working with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s WIN Job Centers to help place people into jobs, including developing resume and interview skills. This program is designed to provide a more consistent pool of job-ready candidates with skills and qualifications to gain entry-level employment in healthcare, green, and hospitality occupations. The original goal was to reach 100 adults and 50 teens. The curriculum is developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and has six sections, each with multiple lessons, including real practice and exercise.
  • Business incubator to build small business entrepreneurship, including a partnership with BankPlus. The business incubator is important from both a jobs and an economic development perspective. Small businesses are a cornerstone community according to CSLC, as they trigger development. A single business can generate 15 jobs. BankPlus, an important CSLC partner, provides business seminars through its Business-Plus program.
  • Housing rehabilitation, with five homes brought up to standard. More than 100 homeowners applied. The housing rehabilitation program is important to Holmes County because so many of the area homes are distressed. Flooring and roofing are the primary problems, but substandard homes lacking electricity or water are also prevalent. Good housing is important to improving many social ills, including education- and health-related issues.
  • New housing construction, which developed five high-quality single-family homes and helped buyers to qualify. The Faith Hill development is composed of five new homes in a new development, located just outside Holmes County, approximately 10–12 minutes from Lexington. The five homes are three-bedroom, single-family dwellings. Finding qualified homebuyers was difficult for CSLC due to local poverty and a lack of familiarity with and access to financing options, but they were ultimately able to situate residents in the homes where they have been subsequently successful. CSLC also funded the rehabilitation of five existing homes through the RIF project, for which they had over 100 applications seeking placement.

Community Students Learning Center, EDGE Business Incubator

Community Students Learning Center
EDGE Business Incubator


Faith Hill development entrance

Entrance to the Faith Hill Development

Project Resources

CSLC originally identified a large number of partners to provide needed leverage. While some of the original partners ultimately could not meet their commitments, CSLC was able to replace them with new partners after the grant was approved, and some original partners ultimately contributed more than originally planned. Much of the leverage came from donated time, translated into value by using hourly rates.

BankPlus is an important CSLC partner, providing leverage through the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program and the CreditPlus Program. BankPlus has continued its partnership with CSLC even beyond the lifespan of the RIF grant.

Primary Project Resources

Source Amount Details
Rural Innovation Fund (RIF) $1,974,462  
BankPlus (Federal Home Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program) $308,000 Rehabilitation project.
Total Leverage $2,282,462  


CSLC home rehabilitation

CSLC Home Rehabilitation

Program Outcomes

Some of the easily quantifiable outcomes of the RIF funding are:

  • Construction/rehabilitation of 10 homes for families in the community
  • Creation of a business incubator, which has served existing small businesses with needed office equipment and office/meeting space, and the development of new businesses and entrepreneurial ventures
  • Job training for 90 youth and 140 adults
  • 44 families achieved homeownership through the housing counseling services
  • BankPlus CreditPlus Program—an award-winning project—which helped increase credit scores of program participants so that they could qualify for a loan
    • Some participants had credit scores increase by more than 100 points, with an average increase of 47 points
    • Approximately 12 percent of BankPlus customers have no credit score

In addition to these quantifiable outcomes, the RIF grant also allowed CSLC to build its capacity significantly, making it a much stronger organization. For example, the organization has:

  • Developed the ability to manage construction projects, both new construction and rehabilitation
  • Obtained a business incubator certification from the National Business Incubator Institute
  • Upgraded its financial systems, including moving its software from Microsoft Excel to QuickBooks
  • Earned housing counseling certification by its staff
  • Increased its board size
  • Joined the AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America program, utilizing 15 AmeriCorps volunteers
  • Experienced greater visibility with increased media exposure
  • Built and furnished additional physical space within the business incubator building
  • Honed its data analysis and reporting capability
  • Developed an ongoing partnership with BankPlus due to the success of the program

CSLC has built some sustainability out of the RIF funding by using program income from the business incubator and home sales for further operational costs and ongoing programs.

CSLC Headquarters

CSLC Headquarters

Challenges and Progress

CSLC has made significant progress for an organization originally devoted to educational opportunities for local students. It has significantly expanded its operations into economic development and housing through the RIF program and has broadened its funding options and internal capacity. However, the organization continues to struggle with ways to impact a remote rural community fighting extreme poverty, limited economic opportunity, and isolation from other population centers.

Rural Mississippi home

New Housing Development