In 2015, I went through the Aspirations to Actions (A2A) training with The Harwood Institute. I learned about a variety of ways to take aspirations and turn them into action, celebrate the small victories, and collaborate with willing, ready partners. One of the necessary components of the Harwood model is community conversations. Community conversations reveal the value of not arriving with the answer and actually learning from residents. These conversations also allow us to employ The Patterson Foundation's 5 C's: caring, connecting, collaborating, contributing, creating.

We've experienced some success using the Harwood model in DeSoto County. During the Smith Brown Project/Boys & Girls Club initiative, it allowed us to assess residents' aspirations and galvanize the community. The goal was to restore the historic Smith Brown Gym into a community facility with programming for our youth and families. In 2017, the very first Boys & Girls Club in DeSoto opened at the site. In 2021, the Smith Brown Gym's restoration was complete, and its doors opened to more youth.

This past spring, an A2A team was assembled to explore the aspirations of DeSoto County residents as they navigate life through the pandemic. As a County Commissioner, hearing directly from the community is essential. With funding like the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and others on the horizon, we must consider and align these aspirations with budget decisions. These conversations also allow us to connect with others who care about our community.

The A2A team has held numerous conversations in DeSoto for the past three months. We've talked to people with varying backgrounds, careers, and ages. The bulk of our initial conversations have been with DeSoto youth. We've met with students in Links2Success, The Sub Debs (a high school sorority), 4H, and more and found similar threads.

First and foremost, DeSoto youth share a sense of pride for our community. They are resilient and desire change. The students know far more about county issues than I did at their age, and their contributions will greatly benefit our county's future.

A goal of these conversations is to identify solutions, not just problems. We also want these conversations to connect the people who can help move necessary actions forward. The common themes we heard could be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time:
  • community clean-up
  • teen activities and a gathering place
  • safety awareness
  • historic preservation efforts
  • learning how smart growth in land use can help an expanding community maintain its character.

These findings are helpful in connecting organizations with similar passions who can collaborate to accomplish some of the shared aspirations and goals.

It's been an absolute joy to hear from our community. Gloria Romero, Regional Director for Catholic Charities, shared that Casa San Juan Bosco residents were so grateful to be included in a community conversation. She further stated how they appreciated that someone wanted to hear their thoughts about the community.

Showing up and listening is just the beginning of the DeSoto County Solutions in Action initiative. We are thankful to everyone who has contributed to this important initiative. We still have a number of organizations and people to connect with and learn from. Our goal is to share what we learn with the community and its stakeholders. If you’re interested in contributing to a community conversation in DeSoto, please contact me at

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