Harwood Institute's process creates momentum for rural community project

Harwood Institute's process creates momentum for rural community project

Posted on June 10, 2016 by Ashley Coone, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

Editor’s Note: Ashley Coone is one of our region’s public innovators and was trained through the Aspirations to Actions initiative. 

Routinely, when grassroots efforts are launched, very few have access to the education and resources that The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation provides. Such training and programming comes with a cost that volunteers and/or nonprofits often can’t afford. Such was the case when the Smith Brown Project, an effort to restore community facilities in DeSoto County to facilitate a safe place for learning, was launched almost three years ago.

Thankfully, The Patterson Foundation has supported the Harwood Institute's public innovators training locally through its Aspirations to Actions initiative, and has connected us with invaluable resources to help improve our communities.

The Harwood model should be credited with leading us to evolve the concept of the Smith Brown Project and peel away at the layers in an effort to “smallify” our ambitious goals. Initially, we looked at “smallify” as something that was difficult to do. How could we “smallify” renovating a facility to provide life-improving programming to an entire community? Sometimes, we are still challenged to “smallify” because the needs are so grand and the resources are very scarce.

When we started the Harwood journey, our goal had been in place for some time. That goal was to restore two facilities leased to the Smith Brown Foundation for $1 a year by the city. The restored facilities would provide community programming to help improve the lives of families living in poverty in Arcadia.

By utilizing the Harwood model, we learned to “smallify” along the way. We implemented ways to accomplish our big-picture goal, to connect people and resources, prior to a having a restored facility. We held “community conversations” listening to dozens of community members as they shared their hopes and aspirations. Hundreds of people living within our rural community have donated to the Smith Brown Project. These donations have allowed us to secure costs for the project. We facilitated the inaugural Community Day event, which brought over 600 people to the facilities and connected them with nearly 50 human, health, youth, and other organizations offering resources for their families.

The Harwood model is beneficial in a number of ways including training public innovators on how to facilitate and share the approach to educate the masses. It also continuously brings these innovators together to share their experiences, teaches them to engage their community and identify achievable, collaborative goals. The Harwood model should be credited with maintaining the momentum for this project.

When I first started the Harwood journey, I shared in one of the sessions that my aspirations for my community was to hope. Hope encompasses a lot, but I wanted my community to hope for something, believe that it could happen and be willing to help. As a community, we continue to work on the bold vision of this project, but we are continuously implementing “smallierific” ways to address the critical needs of our community and the people in it throughout the journey.

On behalf of our team, thank you to The Patterson Foundation, Debra Jacobs, the Harwood Institute, and all of the consultants and other teams for making this possible and sharing along the way.

The Smith Brown Project in DeSoto County is a grassroots initiative to create a safe place for supplemental learning for families living in Arcadia. In addition, recreation and community programming for both students and parents will provide support to improve education, employability, and positive home experiences. The project is an effort to address the generational poverty in the area.


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