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Fixing up without federal dollars: one town's way

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Downtown stores painted; a concrete-block headquarters for the local Boy Scouts built on an overgrown, donated lot; land for a city park cleared; a community center renovated and a new basketball court built; a townwide cleanup, not just with brooms, but with paint brushes, weed cutters, and trucks to haul debris -- and all without federal funds or even much state help.

In a period when federal funds for many town and city projects are being cut back and tax revolts are pinching state funds, Byron has shown what people can do without dipping into the government till.

And Byron-style efforts can work in big urban areas across the country, too, says Georgia Community Development official Jay Hardy. Apparently, determination, not the size of an area, makes the difference.

It's not that Byron (pop. 1,666) spurns federal funds. Town officials try to get them -- but they rarely do because the town has too low an unemployment rate (about 3 percent) to qualify for many federal programs.

But that has not held back major improvements in the town in the past few years. People were asked to pitch in with their talents and time, and they did.

"Work, work, work, work, work is what we did," says Frances McDaniels, city clerk and a key organizer in Byron's bootstrap progress.

Across town, electrician Tommy Smith, one of the town's main volunteers, leans against a pickup at a construction site.

"We're not gonna sit back and wait on the [government] money," he says. "If you get two or three who believe it [a local project] can be done, it'll be done."

And that's the strategy used to get the Scout center built on the edge of town.

"There's not a penny of labor in that building," says Smith. Kids and parents built it. He "paid" the kids with a smile and soft drinks, Mr. Smith says.

Parents brought dinners to the hungry work crews. Money for materials was raised through barbecues and raffles, he explained.


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