Photo: DeSoto Solutions to Actions

Community-Led Action with a Long-Term Vision

Posted on November 06, 2023 by Alexa Carr, TPF Fellow 2023/24
"And it is precisely philanthropy—the sector most able, and ideally, most willing, to take risks, absorb losses, learn, adapt and empower—that is suited to be a catalyst for the current rural moment. Sustainable rural philanthropy must begin with an orientation toward a positive new vision for rural communities" – Jerry Kenney; T.L.L Temple Foundation


As I was sitting in the "Respectful and Responsible Capacity Building in Rural Communities" session at Philanthropy Southwest, I couldn't help but notice the stark similarities between the DeSoto Solutions to Actions event and the key messages from the presentation. This session was presented by Kelty Garby, Executive Director of Texas Rural Funders, and Jerry Kenney, Program Officer at the T.L.L Temple Foundation.

The presenters discussed prioritizing funding with a "bias toward community-led action with a long-term vision." This sentiment is truly what first struck me into noticing all of the similarities

The Patterson Foundation began having conversations about deepening work in DeSoto County when DeSoto County resident and appointed County Commissioner Ashley Coone approached TPF. While she was County Commissioner, Ashley wanted to do as much for her community as possible and inquired how that would fit into the Aspirations to Actions initiative. As it turned out, it was a great fit, and this work has continued over the years.

The work so far culminated into an event called DeSoto Solutions to Actions: Dive into Discovery. The purpose of this event was to engage and convene the community to deepen connections while further sharing how the eight themes—which represent community priority areas directly derived from the DeSoto County community—are getting attention and will continue to develop.

Ashley's hope seeded a year-long series of community conversations, which were facilitated by her and TPF Aspirations to Action lead Cheri Coryea. These conversations uncovered the eight previously mentioned themes shared at the event:

Eight Themes from DeSoto County Community Conversations

  1. Beautification of Arcadia (DeSoto County)
  2. A Safe and Peaceful Arcadia and DeSoto County
  3. Nonprofit, Business, Resident, and Economic Opportunities to Support DeSoto County
  4. Technology/Digital Access for All
  5. Family Fun Friendly Events with Sustainability
  6. Preserve the Historical Essence of the Community and Grow with Thoughtful, Engaged Planning
  7. Support Advanced Focus on Education Enhancement
  8. Reconnect with Students, Parents, Teachers, and Administration for Educational Support
As you can see, these are not small ideas. Another point from the "Respectful and Responsible Capacity Building in Rural Communities" session relates to this; a best practice is that funders should be funding "the system that does the 'thing' rather than the 'thing' itself." This is talking about catalytic and transformational giving. As you look at each of the themes, none of them are a tangible "thing." They are all systems.

The DeSoto County community and The Patterson Foundation, supported by The Harwood Institute, are coming together to create action plans and work groups surrounding these themes. As I mentioned, these are huge initiatives, not small projects–and that's okay because there is a whole community and network behind each.

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