• Southern Mutual Help Association Southern Mutual Help Association


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Mission Statement

SMHA's Mission

Southern Mutual Help Association (SMHA) helps people develop strong, healthy, prosperous rural communities in Louisiana. Our special focus is with distressed rural communities whose livelihoods are interdependent with our land and waters. We work primarily with agricultural and pervasively poor communities, women and people of color. We help build rural communities through people's growth in their own empowerment and the just management of resources. In keeping with its mission, Southern Mutual is playing a key role in the recovery and long-term development of hurricane-ravaged areas of South Louisiana ravaged through its Rural RCovery Response.

Southern Mutual Help Association was founded in 1969 to be an agent of change. SMHA was born out of the distressed and oppressive conditions found in the Louisiana cane fields. As a matter of justice, the pervasive conditions on the plantations had to be changed.

SMHA emerged as a solution to the challenges and public tensions that underlined the War on Poverty. We confronted the failures of policies that did not change people's lives, because they were based on service, and not on systemic change.

SMHA's foundation was -- and still is -- our strong convictions and a passion for justice.

SMHA grew out of strong female leadership. We have persistently challenged barriers to women leaders in every arena of our work. We understand that women are bedrock to the life and health of communities. To engage women as leaders is to move a community.

Trillions of dollars have been spent fighting poverty in America, and yet poverty has grown, and the gap between the rich and poor has widened. Rural communities are increasingly marginalized. Our natural resources suffer from consistent overuse and abuse, and their rightful stewards remain outside decision-making processes.

Since 1969, Southern Mutual Help has been pioneering new approaches to the seemingly intractable challenges facing rural communities. We have taken a strong stand against the root causes of poverty: racism, sexism and classism. We have evolved from our beginnings in advocacy, documentation and confrontation to implement bold new strategies that forge ties across all segments of our communities. Through changing times, innovation and vision have remained at our core.

SMHA's foundation was -- and still is -- our strong convictions and a passion for justice.

In keeping with its mission, Southern Mutual is playing a key role in the recovery and long-term development of hurricane-ravaged areas of South Louisiana ravaged through its Rural Revocery Response.


SMHA's Rural Recovery ResponseIn response to the devastation wreaked by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Southern Mutual Help Association created a hands-on Rural Recovery Task Force and is working to build a $30 million Rural Recovery Fund to help rebuild Louisiana better than it was before.

The Rural Recovery Task Force is implementing a multi-pronged approach for the recovery and long-term development of the rural areas of south Louisiana, including:

  • Enlisting volunteer and in-kind resources and developing partnerships to meet the needs of the affected communities.
  • Identifying new policies and innovative approaches to facilitate the rebuilding and redevelopment effort.
  • Working with families and small businesses through an "In-the-Field Response" to help them deal with the short-term and long-term challenges they face.
The "In the Field Response" is proceeding in three phases:
Phase 1: Focused direct relief aimed at jump-starting recovery.
Phase 2: Recovery and rebuilding.
Phase 3: Long-term development.

In Phase 1, Southern Mutual, working with partners, is continuing to provide focused direct relief in the rural sections of the 11-parish area most directly affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita:
St. Bernard
Plaquemines (south of Belle Chase)
Lower Jefferson
Lower Lafourche
Lower Terrebonne
St. Mary
Jefferson Davis

Many people living in these rural areas, like the family farmers, fishers and small mom-and-pop businesses, have not only lost their homes, but the very means of creating a livelihood to recover. The crops in many areas are gone--cane, citrus, soybeans, as well as pasture and hay lands. Rice fields suffered salt-water intrusion.

There are heavy cattle losses. The fisheries are destroyed in large areas of Louisiana's coast. Many small businesses are also destroyed.

In Phase 2, SMHA is spearheading a recovery and rebuilding effort, including:
  • Training people to get all the federal dollars to which they are entitled through various programs and agencies.
  • Looking for gaps that need to be filled.
  • Evaluating public policies and providing leadership to bring about needed changes.
  • Training people to get their message out about their needs and teaching them how to advocate in the public policy arena at the local, state and federal levels.
  • Developing special categories of loans through SMHA's affiliate bank, Southern Mutual Financial Services, a Community Development Financial Institution certified by the U.S. Treasury Department.
In Phase 3, the focus is on long-term development, including:
  • Working with communities to determine whether homes can be repaired or must be replaced, as well as what is needed for recovery of small businesses and the livelihoods of farmers and fishers.
  • Planning for community development and rebuilding.
  • Building partnerships with builders and banks to greatly expand the housing program.
  • Working on refinancing and debt reduction issues as well as developing a secondary market to purchase an estimated $100 million in loans to be made by SMHA's Community Development Financial Institution and partner banks.
  • Conceptualizing and working on bold policy initiatives such as National Disaster Recovery Bonds and Disaster Recovery Homeownership Tax Credits.
  • Advocating for the needs of rural communities as Louisiana develops its recommendations for using CDBG funds.
  • Assuring that the human and family development component of SMHA's program is an integral part of the expanded housing and rebuilding effort.
  • Doing the necessary follow-up to assure accountability, evaluate results and make needed adjustments.



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