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  Free To Grow
  Mailman School
  of Public Health
  Columbia University
  722 West 168th Street,
  8th Floor
  New York, NY 10032

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NOTE: as of April 17, 2007, the Free to Grow program has closed.
Grantee Profiles

St. Mary Community Action Head Start Program

Organization Name St. Mary-Vermilion Community Action Agency
State Louisiana
Program Profile

The St. Mary Community Action Agency Head Start has the passion and partners to make a difference with Free to Grow using principles from the Colorado strategy. The community is building on its relationships with churches, the District Attorney's office, the sheriff and school superintendent.  It is building on its stable community where residents have lived in the community all of their lives and most people know one another.  It is building on the fact that religion is a strong anchor and factor in the community's foundation. The community has a new community center, which serves a meeting place and an active school that added staff to conduct outreach to high-risk families.  The Head Start program is part of a community action agency that incorporate economic development, housing, jobs access, transportation, youth training and welfare to work program.  The program will reach out and serve families beyond those in the Head Start program and "take back their streets." 


The target area is two small communities that are high-need and isolated set on the Louisiana flood plain.  The poor population in these two communities is primarily African American. There are approximately 400 families living in one community and less than 200 in the other.  The majority of the housing stock is below standards with many residents living in old trailers and dilapidated shacks. Drug dealers operate openly during the daytime hours and with law enforcement provided by the Sheriff's office, a half-hour away, there is little fear of arrest. 



With its deep relationships in the community, including media, as well as with a number of nationally funded Federal and Foundation initiatives currently being implemented, the St. Mary's Head Start will get people who need it into treatment, organize residents to take back their communities from the drug dealers, and use their Fatherhood project as a way to identify men to participate in the leadership structure of Free to Grow.

For more information, contact Almetra Franklin at (337) 828-5753 or via email at

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copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.