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COPC's impact may be felt for many years

By Britney Appier

Sun Tribune

Last week, University of Minnesota, Morris Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson and Morris Mayor Sheldon Giese signed a pledge to continue to sustain programs and progress realized through the Community Outreach Partnership Centers grant.

The COPC project was a partnership between the UMM campus and the City of Morris to use the resources of the university to help improve Morris.

The COPC project was originally funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It's a highly competitive grant program, the application and administration for which was handled by UMM's Center for Small Towns.

The plan was to use the organizations that already existed and to "change the way Morris looks at things" and "focus the attention and resources on how Morris can better facilitate these organizations," said David Fluegel, coordinator of the COPC project.

The signing occurred at the City Council's regular meeting, following the final meeting of the Community Advisory Committee to review what has been accomplished through the COPC partnership.

Morris received the grant three years ago, becoming the smallest community to ever receive a COPC grant. Organizers began planning ways to create or revitalize various services in the community.

In that time, 13 projects were developed, three research studies, and thousands of hours have been put into this project in order for it to be successful. The areas that Morris concentrated on for the COPC project were housing, economics, and community organizing and neighborhood revitalization.

Three research studies by UMM professors Greg Thorson, Arne Kildegaard and Bart Finzel were undertaken to support the work on the housing projects. No housing study had been completed in Morris since the 1970s and updated research was needed on the housing needs of the city, according to the COPC Web site.

With 43 percent of the of the Morris population renting their homes, research was needed to explore what types of housing were needed in the city, Fluegel said.

Economics and the growth of new entrepreneurial businesses were other areas in which COPC money was used. In 2001, $21 million in revenue in Morris came from small business owners, according to Idea Factory research. Since so much revenue is generated by that growing market, it, too, became focus of COPC. The Idea Factory aids people who are looking to get businesses off the ground and need affordable resources and access to experts.

COPC's Community Development and Neighborhood Revitalization program includes a variety of activities to combat social concerns of those living in Morris. Such concerns include the rising average age of Morris-area residents combined with static school-age population and the growing gap between them.

The Community Development organizers also tackled the design of the City Center parking lot, a growing minority population, some people's resistance to change, domestic violence and crime.

For the work on the COPC project, UMM and the city in October 2006 received the Carter Community Partnership Award for campus-community collaboration. The award recognized the programs that Morris and UMM established through the COPC grant. The Carter awards are given in each state to recognize the use of a university's resources to address crucial areas of need in the community. Morris did just that.

As the Carter Award proclaimed, UMM and Morris worked hard to address many issues within the community, attempting to focus and develop the town to better face the issues it currently is encountering.

"The community and the university are interdependent, and it's nice to be in a community where that interdependency is recognized and valued" Johnson said at last week's pledge signing.