Be in the know, you know
Check out these unique opportunities to get out and explore.
📷: Cover photo by Debbie Marie Photography
Although it might still be chilly out there, you can slowly start to feel spring in the coming breeze. You can also feel it as the Northwest Arkansas region begins to promote outdoor opportunities for locals and visitors. It is finally the time of year when we're starting to get a little more sunshine, some slightly warmer days, and people can go out once more to enjoy the beautiful Ozark natural landscape. Thanks to multiple initiatives in the region, there is a whole list of activities that will make you want to go out there and feel the first signs of spring. Check out all of the events and volunteering opportunities that the region has to offer!
Steel Creek Star Party
On March 2 at 7:30 pm, people will meet at the Steel Creek Campground at the Buffalo National River (about 3 miles east of Ponca, Arkansas) and experience the night sky along with Ranger Chris. Besides gazing at the stars without the disruption of city lights, participants will also be able to "[l]earn the ancient folklore behind the stars, planets, and constellations, and hear what Buffalo National River is doing to preserve the darkest night sky in the state of Arkansas."
Bats Over Boxley
On March 23 at 7pm, folks will join Ranger Lauren at the Boxley Pond to explore Cave Mountain Cave near Boxley Valley, which is "one of the most significant hibernacula in the southeastern United States for endangered gray bats." Visitors will be able to learn more about the bats as they fly by through interpretive commentary provided by the ranger. You'll even be able to identify different species with acoustic bat detection devices!
Friends of Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area
Ozark Plateau Trail
Hobbs State Park has several events coming up through the following weeks for people of all ages: from park weekly programs put on by park interpreters and outside groups to guest speakers, to special events, and much more. On March 16 at 12pm, come celebrate the Arkansas Arbor Day with Park Interpreter Chris, who will guide visitors through a kid-friendly, half-mile tree hike on the Ozark Plateau Trail. Participants will get to go home with a tree of their very own courtesy of the Arkansas Forestry Commission.
If you want to learn how to capture the one-of-a-kind moments you'll spend in nature at one of these events, on March 16 from 2pm to 5pm the Photographic Society of Northwest Arkansas will be hosting a Basic Nature Photography Class in the Hobbs State Park with a lecture by Mike Wintroath and Cleeo Wright.
Additionally, as part of the continuation of the Fun with Mother Nature series, on March 9 from 10:30am to 11:30am teachers will relate stories to kids, mostly between ages 3 and 6, about the surrounding nature followed by a craft activity.
Outdoors' Volunteering Opportunities
There are other ways to get the unique experience that Northwest Arkansas' outdoors has to offer while still doing your share in protecting the environment. What better way to make the best out of the outdoors than by giving back and becoming a volunteer? By helping out at the Hobbs State Park, you can enjoy the bountiful nature the state offers while still looking after it. The Hobbs State Park is offering volunteer workdays, where people can contribute to this largely undeveloped park: "Whether your talent is in writing education curriculum or grants, talking and educating people, building hiking trails, or surveying wildlife, we have an opportunity for you!" says Friends of Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area.
You can also volunteer at the Buffalo National River as a campground host, as they are looking for people to host at Tyler Bend and Buffalo Point campgrounds for the 2019 camping season. Live/work riverside in your camper or RV for any 90 day period from March 15th to November 15th, 2019.
And next month the Ozark Off-Road Cyclists (OORC) will host two Trail Love events. The OORC is a non-profit organization "dedicated to creating and maintaining sustainable soft-surface trails in the Arkansas Ozarks, giving greater opportunities for mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts to live healthy, active lives." This organization has accomplished important goals in trail stewardship, as it has partnered with many user groups, land managers, and businesses to preserve the environment for recreational experience. On March 2, you can volunteer by moving rocks to armor the new trails from 9am to 1pm at City Lake in Siloam Springs. Or you can participate at another volunteer trail-building opportunity at Lake Fayetteville on the same day from 9am to 1pm.
With so many things to do and places to go, there is plenty of reason to head out into the nature and make the best out of the first days of springtime. Whether it's volunteering or visiting a park, there's something for everyone in the great outdoors. Pick your next adventure from this list and explore the Ozarks this spring!
Canopy NWA is looking for a part-time Volunteer Coordinator and a full-time Employment Specialist to join their team starting in March
Canopy Northwest Arkansas, a local refugee resettlement organization, is looking for applicants from diverse backgrounds, especially members of our refugee and immigrant communities and those who have experience living and working in those communities to join their team. Canopy's overarching goal is to create a comprehensive network that connects refugee families to everything they need to build a new life here.
They're looking for people who are:
- Passionate about welcoming and inclusion
- Flexible team players
- Ready to be challenged, fail and keep learning
- Willing to cultivate genuine relationships with their coworkers and the people they serve
The Volunteer Coordinator will oversee the training and management of community volunteers. In addition, they will coordinate with other staff members to match volunteers with anticipated client needs and establish procedures to increase volunteer retention and efficiency. This is a part-time, salaried position, starting March 2019, with the potential to transition to full-time in the future.
For more information, see this
job description. To be considered for this position, submit your resume and cover letter to Lauren Snodgrass at email@example.com no later than March 1.
The Employment Specialist will guide Canopy clients along the path to employment as they seek rapid self-sufficiency within their designated resettlement period. They will provide a full range of support services including job training and job coaching and also, work within the business community to develop employment opportunities and promote the hiring of clients. The position available will be salaried, full time and also start in March 2019.
For more information, see this job description. To be considered for this position, submit your resume and cover letter to Khalid Ahmadzai at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than March 1.
Other Ways to Get Involved
Not looking for a job? There are other ways you can help support the work of Canopy Northwest Arkansas.
1. Take Online Survey
Up until this year, Canopy's focus has been on helping refugee families get on their feet in the first 90-180 days. Over the next 4-5 months, they are working to develop a Long Welcome Strategy. This strategy will lay out a vision for how Canopy can collaborate with the community to support and surround refugee families along their journeys toward full integration. What does refugee integration look like to you? What does it mean for your refugee neighbors to belong to our community? What do you want to see from them? What do you want to see from Canopy? You can help inform the strategy by taking taking this short 4-question survey.
2. Form a Co-sponsor Team
You can form a team from your workplace, your school, your church—or just a group of your friends. Canopy will match you with a refugee family in their pipeline and you'll join them in preparing for their arrival. Once they're here, you'll become their first friends and you'll mentor them for the first six months in the country as they learn how to navigate their new community, get plugged into resources and find jobs. This is a life-changing, life-giving experience that you do not want to miss! If this sounds like it might be for you, email Lauren Snodgrass at email@example.com to sign up.
3. Sign up to be a Mentor
Mentor a refugee child in Canopy's after-school program. The After School Buddies Program needs volunteers for the spring semester! You will be matched with a refugee student and will meet with them one afternoon a week to work on English, learn about US culture, help them with their homework and mentor them. This program is run by Students for Refugees at the University of Arkansas, but you do not need to be a college student to volunteer. Anyone 18 and older is welcome to apply. If you are interested, please email Amanda Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
According to Canopy's website, as many as 56 new refugees will be arriving in Northwest Arkansas this year, from all over the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and others—let's all take an active role in helping them fully integrate into our beautiful community.
"The Walton family honors its history by building opportunity in its home region – because these are the communities where Sam and Helen Walton first found opportunity." (Source: Walton Family Foundation)
Did you know that Northwest Arkansas communities benefited from $52,537,755 in grants from the Walton Family Foundation in 2017....fifty two million!? The list of grantees, many of them grassroots organizations, are doing invaluable work that lift up our communities in innumerable ways—arts and culture, education, children and youth, the environment, etc.—work that reaches every corner of our region. You can check out the full list of grantees HERE.
We anticipate that the 2018 annual report will be released around mid-year. In the meantime, we couldn't help but notice the various recent mentions of the Walton Family Foundation that have been coming across our desk: updates from previous grants, news about current grants, announcements about new grants, and other noteworthy regional mentions. Get a look at some of them below.
Education: $1.1 million for Bentonville High School Ignite Program
"We want to help Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas become one of the best places to live and work in the U.S., and a high-quality education system is an essential part of that effort." Karen Minkel, Walton Family Foundation
Bentonville Schools developed the Ignite Professional Studies program to provide students with real, relevant learning experiences in collaboration with regional businesses, non-profits, and industry professionals. Now in its fourth year, this grant is intended to help the Ignite program expand and obtain use of advanced technologies (e.g. robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology) to prepare students for emerging careers. The program offers classes in eight career fields: Construction management, Culinary arts, Digital design and photography, Education innovation, Global business, Health sciences, Technology, and Video production.
Learn more from Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Public Spaces: Urban Design Projects that Put People First
"Designing spaces for people can support a child's ability to learn, provide a platform for local arts and culture to flourish, help keep a community physically active and mentally stimulated, spur economic development and help us live in harmony with the built environment." - Jeremy Pate, Walton Family Foundation
In the course of investing in Northwest Arkansas' public spaces, the Walton Family Foundation has supported several projects centered around residents' vision of what the community should look like. Through the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, the foundation has awarded millions of dollars in grants to design park and public space projects in four downtown areas in Northwest Arkansas—Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale.
Some of the most recent projects include:
- Fayetteville Cultural Arts Corridor (pictured above), which will provide easy access to arts and entertainment destinations.
- Luther George Park in downtown Springdale, which will include: art, music, events, nature and play and connections to the 36-mile Razorback Regional Greenway, downtown and neighborhoods.
- The Quilt of Parks in downtown Bentonville, which will thread together multiple downtown open spaces including 5 parks into a cohesive experience.
- Railyard Park in downtown Rogers, which will include a covered area for events, a stage, farmers market, water features, play areas and orchards.
Learn more about the progress of these projects at Talk Business and Politics
Arts & Culture: Affordable Spaces for Artists
"The Artspace team has visited 500 communities over our 40 years in operation, and the rapid growth that we witnessed within Northwest Arkansas is unprecedented, bringing unique challenges to the area," said Wendy Holmes, Artspace Senior Vice President of Consulting. "The need for attainable, stabilizing spaces for artists and arts organizations in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, and Springdale is paramount to retain the vibrant creative class, and to continue to develop a thriving arts economy."
Thanks to $400,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, Artspace was able to complete a one year engagement with arts communities in Northwest Arkansas to study space needs. Artspace Projects recently presented their findings in a 210-page report, which can be found HERE. The major themes for each city are listed below.
A Thriving Cycling Culture
The world's biggest cyclocross event is coming to Northwest Arkansas thanks to grants provided by the Walton Family Foundation. This event will mark only the second time the championships have been held in the United States. Leading up to the 2022 event, the City of Fayetteville will develop Millsaps Mountain with state of the art cyclo-cross and mountain bike features, while BikeNWA will focus on supporting the growth of the local cyclo-cross scene through infrastructure development and education, as well as bringing multiple national-level cyclo-cross events to Northwest Arkansas.
"The City is thrilled to welcome the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship to Fayetteville in 2022! When we acquired the acreage for Centennial Park at Millsaps Mountain, our vision was to develop a new trail system to serve the emerging mountain biking industry as well as to preserve lands to serve local hikers and trail runners," Jordan said. "This event is proof certain that we can continue to dream big for our future. We are always happy to roll out Fayetteville's hospitality red carpet and share the unique attributes of our beautiful city with visitors from across the world!"
Read the full press release HERE.
Local Music Scene: A Hub for World-Renowned Jazz Musicians
The Walton Family Foundation is also helping support jazz performances and jazz education for young musicians and ensuring this uniquely American music continues to be a vibrant force within the region's diverse music ecosystem. Learn more about the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society and the unique story of our region's thriving jazz scene HERE.
Other notable WFF mentions making headlines recently:
- A $15 million whitewater park at old Lake Frances is in the works from GRDA, Walton Family Foundation - The state-of-the-art whitewater park at Lake Frances in Siloam Springs will include a 1,000-foot long, 50-foot-wide side channel off the river with seven drop-features to provide wave action for kayakers, surfers and tubers.
- Walton Family Foundation's Kim Davis Selected as Presidential Leadership Scholar - As a member of the fifth annual class, Davis joins 60 leaders from across the country who will learn about leadership through the lens of the presidential experiences of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson.
It's clear that the support of the Walton Family Foundation has enabled our region to do some pretty amazing things. You've read about some of those things here, but below you can hear directly from the family themselves about why the home region is so important to them.
This local initiative was inspired by Barbershop Books, a community-based program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops and provides early literacy training to barbers across America.
Many believe that change comes from the top-down through legislation and contributions to small causes. Some sigh at the pessimistic rebuttal that genuine change is simply not possible. Others, however, believe there's no way to drive change but to do the hard work from the bottom up, making a difference instead of waiting for imposed changes from the top to take effect.
D'Andre Jones, Chairman of the African American Advisory Council at the City of Fayetteville, has co-organized Bringing Books to Barbershops for this year's Black History Month creating "[a] space for reading for African American boys and girls ages 4 through 8 to develop a fondness for reading." Black History Month is the signature project of Compassion Fayetteville, a nonprofit Jones has been involved in for the last five years handling the plans and logistics for these events.
This project is meant to encourage literacy in children in the context of nontraditional spaces, where they can "become more fond of reading": "What better way to promote literacy than partnering with local barbershops?" He believes that barbershops are effective for engaging African American kids, as they are an "essential and integral part" of African American communities: "In the '50s and '60s that's where most African Americans were able to have conversations and strategies in the Civil Rights Movement. The barbershop is were African American men and children would go to grow awareness." The brilliance of this strategy is that it builds awareness in settings where children learn without even realizing it: "Most little girls and boys see their barber as their friend. Something like a mentor or coach—it's very effective. [...] you go into a barbershop, you get your haircut, and the barber tells you: 'Hey, read this book today.' So what happens is, the student will read."
So far, there are two barber shops participating in this year's Black History Month events in Fayetteville and Springdale. Folks can contribute to this literacy project on February 24 during the Celebration Day—Black History Month's annual program—at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville, where Jones encourages people to bring books for donation: "We will use these books to help support our next barbershop locations." The books they would particularly like to see donated are "children's books for kids 4 through 8 where African American characters are depicted in a positive light." Not only are they looking for stories with African American characters, but also "stories that other communities can benefit from," like the Hispanic community.
The idea for this year's literacy project "came from the message of Barbershop Books and the young man who started this program, Alvin Ailey," who has "sustained the [national] Barbershop movement." This literacy project has taken place before in 2017, when Compassion Fayetteville partnered with Skillz Unlimited Springdale, which marked the kickoff to the barbershop books program. Ever since, this initiative has only grown: "the response has been incredible. People have been donating book, after book, after book. We've had a huge amount of success in both locations [Fayetteville and Springdale], so that's another reason why we thought we should broaden our horizons."
Jones plans to expand this literacy project throughout the region to address the needs of several underrepresented communities, something differentiating their service to the region. Jones hopes to attract a wider audience scaling up the initiative by tailoring the literacy project according to the needs and interests of diverse kids: "we are working on incorporating not only barber shops [...] this year, nationally, there's going to be beauty shops." To become more inclusive, he's also trying to create spaces that would integrate the Hispanic community: "we are looking to utilize some Latino shops as well, because we recognize that the challenges are the same for African American and Hispanic children."
By partnering with programs of national barber shop organizations, who can provide these shops with "bookshelves, a year supply of books, and training for barbers," they intend to expand the program by the fall of this year. Barbershop Books will also provide a $2,000 stipend to a student who will be responsible for managing the literacy project. "The idea is to raise $10,000 to make this program sustainable, then getting someone to manage it," Jones says, since having a central manager will be necessary to reduce costs related to handling a region-wide operation: "our goal is to collect this amount [from Barbershop Books] to launch 10 barbershops and beauty shops throughout Northwest Arkansas in August of this school year."
Jones believes that real change is driven by giving kids tools to find their "way out of poverty": "when we lift from the bottom [up], everybody rises [...] Being an African American man, I felt that it was my duty to help my community lift from the bottom [up] so the entire community—the state—can rise." Jones knows from his own experience why the gradual change happening in the region is so important: "I'm from Northeast Arkansas. I grew up in a racially-charged environment," where African Americans weren't allowed to address "elephant-in-the-room topics. Northwest Arkansas has allowed us the opportunity to have those conversations without fear of retribution. I really appreciate that we are beginning to have those conversations. Because where I'm from [...] you were told to be seen and not heard." His mission is to create the space for these conversations through literacy, which would lead to awareness and unity: "Education leads to empathy. Empathy leads to compassion. And compassion leads to a change of hearts. So if we continue to do the work, we will be able to change hearts and minds, and again, we will be able to achieve a true community."
Jones hopes that this literacy initiative commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life: "we believe that it all starts with gradual activism, building awareness with education, creating the Black History Month; [it] all comes from the grassroots. Going back to Dr. King: we have to do the work, and in order to achieve the bigger picture, we have to start small." These changes, he suggests, will create the conditions for bigger ones: "If we don't create awareness, then what would politicians have to go on?"
Although significant changes won't happen overnight, bottom-up initiatives like Bringing Books to Barber Shops is already making an important difference in people's lives. Nevertheless, this initiative and others like it need the support of the community. Without starting small and enacting change, all our intentions, no matter how good, will amount to nothing. As Dr. King said: "Lightning makes no sound until it strikes."
RootED NWA's mission is to support and engage families in a culture of education by providing the vital resources necessary to cultivate strong roots for continuing generations.