From time to time, I take stock of progress made on all fronts in my beloved State of Mississippi.

In the Magnolia State, where change often occurs at the slow pace of a drip of sorghum molasses, there is much to celebrate despite dubious rankings in childhood obesity, infant mortality and other statistics of which our state consistently finds itself at the low end of the totem pole.

I sometimes hear grumblings about grants, which often require taxpayer matches and other times do not, and the question as to whether they really make a difference.

Look no further than the progress Mississippi has made with regard to child well-being.

For decades, Mississippi has ranked dead last.

According to a recently published story in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi has moved up two notches.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT reports that Mississippi has nudged itself up the economic and socioeconomic ladder; fewer children live in poverty than in years before.

Still, more than 30 percent of our children live in poverty.

Education has been key to helping to lift Mississippi off the bottom, and a myriad of programs, largely funded through grants, has been keenly instrumental in promoting a healthier, economically viable citizenry.

Last October, this journalist had the pleasure of witnessing the national launch of EVERFI’s “Healthier Me” program with the inclusion of Pleasant Hill Elementary School's carefully-tended outdoor garden under the direction of third-grade teacher Todd Willis.

EVERFI's “Healthier Me” program is an innovative digital course that provides students with the tools to stay healthy, eat more nutritious foods and learn components of agriculture and ecological and economic sustainability.

Thanks largely to the Hernando-based Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, EVERFI began its digital platform program in DeSoto County in 2011 with 5,000 students. That program, begun in Mississippi, now has reached more than 1.7 million students.

The Community Foundation assisted Willis with farm implements for the school garden, which continues to bear fruit, literally and figuratively.

Throughout the 11-county region that it serves, the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi has assisted initiatives from platforms in digital technology, to literacy efforts to employment opportunities and fiscal management.

It’s making a difference.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Report, Mississippi improved in every area of “family and community,” which includes “single-parent families, heads of households lacking a high school diploma, teen births and poverty.”

Cities like Hernando have utilized grants, ranging from a $150,000 grant, which includes match from city taxpayer funds, to construct a multi-use trail at Renasant Park.

Private entities like Renasant Bank, which donated 39 acres for the new city park, and initiatives like the Hernando Dog Park, have also been key to improving the overall quality of life.

ROBERT LEE LONG  is the Community Editor. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, ext. 252.

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