Monday, January 28, 2013

SMHA Promotes Prosperity for Rural Communities

NeighborWorks America is celebrating its 35 anniversary this year. This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks affiliates which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization. 

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow
Since 1969, Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA), based in New Iberia, Louisiana, has worked to build prosperous rural communities by addressing poverty and equality issues for individuals and families whose livelihoods are dependent on the land and water. This year SMHA celebrates its fifth year as a NeighborWorks charter member.

SMHA has changed a great deal over the years. In the beginning, SMHA tackled political and local issues that threatened the quality of life for sugar cane farm workers in southern Louisiana. The organization advocated for better wages and more access to homeownership. They also established community-based programs.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Denise Galatas, special assistant to the president, says the organization is proud  to have been first responders, especially in isolated communities, where they helped individuals, families and business
SMHA's Assistant Executive Director/Life Quality Director, Helen Vinton, 
(right) with a fisher (left) who received assistance from SMHA
to repair his boat and stay in business
owners navigate through their recovery.

After Katrina, SMHA launched a Rural Recovery Response and raised approximately $10.5 million to rebuild communities across Louisiana. More than 1,500 individual homes, churches and businesses were aided by that effort. In response to the 2010 oil spill, SMHA raised funds to provide fishing business owners with grants and loans to help them stay in business. SMHA is currently working to create a Gulf Coast Fishers Loan Fund so shrimpers, fin fishers, oyster fishers and crabbers have access to affordable capital.

Intracoastal Seafood employees hard at work processing shrimp.
SMHA helped this Vermilion Parish seafood dock continue its
operations following storms in 2005 and 2008.
Galatas says SMHA will continue to create solutions while finding ways to remove barriers to equity. This strategy also includes working to increase knowledge and investment in rural communities. Galatas says NeighborWorks has been an excellent partner in assisting SMHA with its mission. “We have connected with strong and efficient organizations across the country that we may not have otherwise linked up with,” she says. “We have made new friends and partners because of our affiliation with NeighborWorks.”

Learn more about SMHA at