Two groups of what scientists term “vulnerable populations” inside of Franklin County - the seafood industry and local youth – are about to receive a major financial shot in the arm from one of the nation’s oldest and most venerable scientific organizations.

Last week, a subgroup within the National Academy of Sciences announced that Franklin’s Promise Coalition Inc. would be among a dozen community organizations along the nation’s coastline to receive a slice of nearly $3.2 million in capacity-building grants.

In the case of Franklin’s Promise this will mean that $377,000 will be infused over the next two years towards a two-pronged project that encompasses the county’s key seafood industry group as well as the two-year-old Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast.

Described as intended to “strengthen Gulf Coast resilience by engaging, educating, and empowering vulnerable populations,” the grant money will be spent to further grow the Corps in the Pensacola – Mobile, Alabama area, as well as to invigorate the county’s SMAART (Seafood Management Assistance and Recovery Team) group, and to create similiar such groups in the Wakulla County and Pensacola areas.

Franklin Promise’s Director Joe Taylor, who oversees the grant, said the project brings together the leadership of the Conservation Corps throughout the Gulf Coast, as well as experts from the University of Florida who helped create and grow the local SMAART group.

In addition, a University of Arizona sociologist will oversee the component that will measure the effect the project has on building the resiliency and social networking that it aims to achieve.

Taylor said that the project has its earliest roots in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, when academic researchers began taking a closer look at how well Gulf Coast communities mobilized and responded to that disaster.

“What we learned is vulnerable populations are most vulnerable in a disaster,” said Taylor. “Either they can be a burden on the system or they can be trained to be a valuable part of responding to the disaster.

“Our current systems really don’t engage underserved people,” he said. “Low-income people often haven’t planned well, so they become victims of the disaster. The idea is to engage them in active preparation and response.”

The two-pronged focus of the grant will be to build “environmental stewardship and disaster readiness activities.”

One prong is to enhance the work of the SMAART groups, particularly by participating in science literacy, leadership, and training activities.

Andrew S. Kane, Ph.D., and Angela B. Lindsey, Ph.D., both from the University of Florida, will expand the role they have had with the local SMAART group, in handling science education and community outreach, respectively. Betty Webb, from Franklin’s Promise Coalition, Inc., will oversee that component of the grant.

“This will mean they will be able to continue to work with them (SMAART), to facilitate their engagement in what’s going on in the bay,” said Taylor. “It gives them resources to keep them at the table, and to provide stipends for SMAART (participants) to come and take training.”

John M. Hosey, who heads the Gulf Coast Restoration for the Conservation Corps Network out of Gulfport, Mississippi, will oversee the second prong, that will grow the Corps into Pensacola/Mobile, after its first chapter was created in Biloxi, Mississippi and its second in Franklin County.

Taylor said the idea is to further expose all three chapters in CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training, to expand their ability to meet standards set by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Whether it be fires, tornadoes, cold weather, hurricanes, even local traffic accidents, the focus will be “to empower everyday people to be the tier one before the professionals arrive,” Taylor said.

“The concept is when there’s a problem we’ve already worked together (on the Gulf Coast) and we’re trained to the same standards,” he said.

As it stands now, 29 young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 25, took part in the second year of the local Corps chapter, with many of them having left the program to assume other full-time jobs or education.

“Young folks are a great resource who have not been tapped,” Taylor said.

He said the local Corps chapter has been active in tasks as wide-ranging as clearing brush in the forest, helping to build the “living shoreline,” and assisting in response to hurricanes in other areas of the state.

“If you’re not training to respond, you’re mitigating,” he said. “It’s a combination of mitigation and disaster preparedness and response.”

The other aspect of the grant will be handled by Brian Mayer, Ph.D., a University of Arizona sociologist, who will analyzes social networking to determine how well the grant’s methods have enabled individuals to work better with peers and their communities.

Money for the grant comes from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Gulf Research Program, which was established in 2013 as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to improve understanding of the interconnected human, environmental, and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. coastal areas.

“The Gulf Research Program is committed to investing in community-based organizations that have strong ties to the people they serve,” said Maggie Walser, director of education and capacity building. “One of the program’s priorities is supporting science that benefits coastal communities and helps them prepare for future health and environmental challenges. This broad suite of new projects aims to do just that – while also strengthening organizations that play a central role in connecting people with the services, resources, and science-based information they need.”

Other recipients include:

Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing – Thibodaux, La., which will use a community-based citizen science program for monitoring environmental contamination in Louisiana coastal parishes.
Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies – Homer, Alaska, which will engage Alaska teachers, youth, and community in preparedness and response to coastal hazards and climate change
The Galveston Bay Foundation – Houston, Texas, which is intended to break down barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration in the Houston-Galveston area
Gulf of Mexico Alliance – Ocean Springs, Miss., which will build industry engagement region-wide, and expand coastal community capacity for climate change adaptation
Island Institute – Rockland, Maine, which will build cross-boundary connections to build disaster preparedness in Maine and beyond
Lifelines Counseling Services – Mobile, Ala., which will provide disaster-related trauma and mental health training for community members, mental health professionals, and social service providers and partnering with the University of South Alabama
Lowlander Center – Gray, La., which will support the Isle de Jean Charles community resettlement
Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese-American Fisher Folks and Families – Biloxi, Miss., which will build bridges to understand fishing communities and fisheries
The Nature Conservancy – Punta Gorda, which will link conservation and restoration with coastal hazards risk reduction via the FEMA community-rating system
Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science – New Orleans, La, which will focus on community citizen science in the Gulf of Mexico