In Louisiana, rural communities often face challenges like aging infrastructure and limited resources. To help, the Environmental Services Team at Communities Unlimited (CU) partnered with USDA-Rural Development. This teamwork aims to find solutions and support these small communities.

Stacey Scarce, CU’s Community Environmental Management Specialist, and Nnika Tinney-Davis, USDA’s Community Programs Loan Specialist, joined forces to support these communities. Their teamwork shows the power of collaboration in helping rural areas grow.

The collaboration between Scarce and Tinney-Davis started when Scarce submitted an application for Chataignier Village, located in Evangeline Parish in the central part of Louisiana. Matt Seaton from USDA-RD assigned Tinney-Davis to handle it. Seeing the potential of working together, Tinney-Davis contacted Scarce and offered to join her on site visits.

Their proactive approach to community outreach was welcomed. “Nnika just called me and asked if she could join me on site visits. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And that’s how it all started,” Scarce said. Since then, their collaboration has grown, with Tinney-Davis being the only one in her department involved in such extensive outreach.

Scarce and Tinney-Davis’s site visits go beyond routine check-ins. They spend significant time with community leaders, understanding their needs and exploring solutions.

“We do an all-day adventure in the field,” Scarce said.

(L-R) CU's Stacey Scarce, Nnika Tinney-Davis, Washington Louisiana Mayor Dwight Landreneau, Grant Writer Amber Savoie
(L-R) CU's Stacey Scarce, Nnika Tinney-Davis, Washington Louisiana Mayor Dwight Landreneau, Grant Writer Amber Savoie

Their approach includes discussing support for water and wastewater systems and highlighting the broader resources CU and the USDA offer. This includes promoting various loan products and services aimed at improving infrastructure, providing training for new operators, and offering technical assistance.

By showcasing the full range of support available, they help communities understand that CU and the USDA are committed to providing comprehensive solutions that address both immediate needs and long-term development goals.

"We let them know what Communities Unlimited and USDA can offer. It's not just support for water and wastewater systems; we also let them know we have many other departments that can help the community in various ways."

— Stacey Scarce, Communities Unlimited

One of the pressing issues they found was in Washington, the third oldest town in Louisiana. Washington is in St. Landry Parish in the central part of the state.

The town faces drainage problems due to its narrow, historic streets. With Washington city officials, Scarce and Tinney-Davis explored solutions like adding cement culverts with grates to improve drainage and prevent road damage. They also discussed the town’s successes in sharing strategies with other communities.

The partnership between CU and USDA adds legitimacy and support to their work.

“It legitimizes my work with Communities Unlimited,” Scarce said. “People see that they can rely on us, knowing the USDA supports us.” This relationship reassures community leaders, making them more open to collaboration.

“It makes a strong impression, whether it’s on the mayor, the clerk, or anyone else. They see two people genuinely interested in helping their town or system, which creates a more impactful impression.”

-Nnika Tinney-Davis, USDA-RD Community Programs Loan Specialist

Despite the positive impact, the partnership faces challenges, especially in communicating with rural communities.

“A lot of times, small systems or towns aren’t very responsive to emails and phone calls,” Tinney-Davis said. “We’ve made the effort to meet face-to-face, and while it doesn’t always work out, we can at least say we’ve tried every possible way to connect.”

Scarce’s planning makes their visits efficient and effective, targeting towns where they can make the most impact. Their combined efforts help towns navigate the complex process of applying for and managing grants and loans, offering much-needed guidance and support.

A key part of their outreach is building trust and reducing administrative burdens for community leaders. Tinney-Davis values Scarce’s ability to make people feel comfortable.

“She puts them at ease and lets them know that they’re not going to be alone,” Tinney-Davis said. “They’re not going to have to figure everything out on their own.”

This approach has clear benefits. As Tinney-Davis explains, “Stacey takes a lot of the burden off me by directing communities through the grant application process and setting up timelines. It’s been a huge help. Sometimes, no matter what I explain what I need, something gets lost in translation. Stacey can rephrase things in a way that makes it click for them. Having her by my side during site visits has been beneficial.”

The partnership between CU and USDA shows the power of collaboration in rural development.

"Since I joined CU in 2001, we’ve always valued our relationship with the USDA. Stacey built a great rapport with Nnika. Having the USDA with us validates our efforts and reassures the communities, showing we’re here to genuinely help."

Chris Brunson

— Chris Brunson, Louisiana State Coordinator