In March 2022, as the masking eased and communities renewed their commitment to in-person gatherings and connections, local leaders and extension workers were faced with a new reality. From 2020 to 2022, during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, parents, individuals and organizations have continued to create change, build strong relationships and rely on each other for basic needs .
Cleveland County is an example of a community taking the time to build on its strategic plan and focus community energy on areas of greatest interest in 2022. County leaders and residents Cleveland’s vision is to build a vibrant place to live based on quality. life, education, broadband, health and care for each other.
A rural population of approximately 8,000, the people of Cleveland County developed the Cleveland County Kickstart Initiative in 2015 to generate economic opportunity for county communities.
Kickstart Cleveland County began in the spring of 2015 after a community meeting with staff members from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture’s CPED Unit for Community, Career, and Economic Development (CPED).
Les Walz, then staff chairman of the Cleveland County Cooperative Extension Service Office, organized the meeting to help Rison Shine Downtown Development develop a long-term plan for the renovation and development of downtown Rison.
“We had hit a plateau by this time and were looking for ideas to move the group and the initiative forward,” said Britt Talent, who helped start Rison Shine Downtown Development and served as its first president.
Talent said the first meeting with UADA staff included a tour of the community and Cleveland County to identify assets that could be beneficial in developing a vision for the community. Afterwards, Rison Shine members and community leaders met to discuss their ideas and goals for Rison.
“During that meeting, UADA told us if we wanted to focus just on Rison or if we wanted to expand it to include the entire county,” Talent said. “Our group voted to include the entire county.”
The name Kickstart Cleveland County was chosen at a subsequent meeting, and Talent, along with Walz and former Cleveland County Family and Consumer Science Officer Diane Clement, hosted a series of community meetings in across the county to encourage people to start their own community development groups like Rison. Shine.
From this effort came the birth of three other bands: Kickstart Kingsland, Re-New-ing Edinburg and Wake-Up Woodlawn.
Since then, other organizations have joined the Kickstart Cleveland County Community Development Initiative banner, including the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, Pioneer Village at Rison, Cleveland County Community Theater and, earlier this year, the Cleveland County Youth Sports Association. .
Kickstart Cleveland County has become an official 501(c)3 nonprofit organization for the primary purpose of helping new community groups get started.
“One of the issues we faced early on with Rison Shine was that we didn’t have legal nonprofit status. It really hurt us applying for grants and accepting donations,” said Talent. “It takes time and effort – and in some cases, money – to get 501(c)3 status. It’s hard for a new group of startups to do.”
“By creating Kickstart Cleveland County at 501(c)3, we can now funnel these grant applications and donations through the umbrella group with the idea that these individual groups may one day gain their own nonprofit status,” Talent said. .
Kickstart Cleveland County consists of seven volunteer action teams.
These teams contributed more than 30,000 hours, valued at $819,468, and raised $182,310 in grants and donations.
In 2018 Kingsland purchased a building for a Johnny Cash Museum and conducted a tour to assess tourism potential.
The community theater presented four productions, reaching over 1,250 spectators.
Friends of the Pioneer Village continued to restore buildings, organize events (3,950 participants in total) and raise funds. Over $37,470 was raised through grants, fundraisers and donations. A total of 2,280 volunteers contributed 6,300 hours, valued at $156,732.
Now in 2022, Walz says, “I take great pride in organizing our volunteer groups and seeing them carry out community service projects and events. We have a good group of volunteers who organize great community events like Christmas in the Village, Haunted Houses, Christmas Lights, Easter Events and Fall Festivals.
Since the start of 2020, much of Cleveland County’s momentum has been on hold. Meetings have been interrupted, projects have been put on hold, and community development has not been a priority during the global pandemic.
Cleveland County is ready to get the ball rolling, but they still face roadblocks; some resulting from COVID-19. In early 2022, Walz and Talent reached out to CPED staff and asked for help finding a way to renew their charge.
After a conversation with Walz, Talent and members of the Kick Start Cleveland County team about their current goals, the CPED team hosted a community conversation on April 4th. Residents and community leaders remembered their accomplishments while reflecting on the gifts, assets, skills and talents of community members to create vibrant and inclusive communities.
Building on the research-centric approach of “ABCD” and the work of Jody Kretzman and John McKnight, asset-based community development is used globally to engage community leaders, including people and marginalized populations, through strengthened relationships and a focus on positive discovery. ABCD involves a shift in organizational and community mindset from problems and shortcomings to strengths and gifts.
At the April meeting, community members identified their greatest challenges and areas of greatest energy for the community. Although infrastructure topics were raised, most participants cited the lack of volunteers, especially young people, as a challenge. Other challenges included: the lack of coordination of the different community groups, the fact that the volunteers who are active seem to do everything and burn out. CPED staff and participants explored ways to leverage community connections, skills and gifts to identify new volunteers and re-engage current leaders.
After the meeting, a resident contacted Walz. She was excited to see the next steps and took it upon herself to plan their next Rison Shine reunion as well as lead a theater project for downtown Rison. Going forward, Walz said he would like to see beautification projects, downtowns transformed into destination locations, housing and infrastructure renewed.