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Nourishing a Region’s Unique Sense of Place

March 5, 2020
In my job, I am inspired by the resolve of residents to make Northwest Arkansas the most welcoming place to live.

I was raised on a farm in south Arkansas, a very rural part of the state. I grew up appreciating everything Arkansas has to offer, from clear running streams to forested hills and open fields. There are so many opportunities for adventure and imagination.

But as a native Arkansan, I recognize that our state has had a lot of challenges, historically. Poverty. Lack of opportunity. Limited access to resources. These are things that have kept too many people from achieving their potential. I believe in finding solutions that lift up people and communities.

For me, the work I do on a daily basis needs to have a meaningful impact on the place I call home. I’ve lived my entire adult life in Northwest Arkansas. It’s where I’m raising a family.

For over a decade, I worked in city and urban planning for the City of Fayetteville, helping to set the stage for a more livable community as we were rapidly growing.

In a way, urban planning coupled my love for creation of place with serving others, removing some of these barriers to opportunity along the way.

Now, at the Walton Family Foundation, I work to improve quality of life for my neighbors through strategic investments in the attributes that make our corner of the world unique and authentic. We think of it as cultivating our region’s sense of place.

What does that mean? To me it’s about character and identity. It’s about maintaining a sense of connection by protecting and building up the assets that create our identity, our sense of who we are and the things that make this place special. It’s about being authentic to who we are, while embracing who we are becoming. It’s about calling a place home.

In Northwest Arkansas, we are blessed with clean water, rolling mountains and forests and fields. There’s a proximity to wilderness right in our back yard. We have a strong entrepreneurial heritage and rich cultural traditions unique to the Ozarks.

These are the some of the qualities that define our sense of place. They’re the roots that nourish us even as the region grows.

I’m lucky because I get to experience our sense of place every day.

I am able to ride a bike or go for a run right from my office, or go out the front door of my house with my children to visit nearby parks, explore forest lands and follow trails. We can wade in a stream in the local park, walk to school watching the change of season, or catch a sunset over the hills of town with the tree canopy as our skyline.

I experience sense of place by checking out the latest local food or visiting an old favorite, dropping in at a local art show or seeing live music on the weekend.

I believe people appreciate those things – consciously and unconsciously – in a way that improves our livelihood, our mood, our health, our day-to-day quality of life.

It is inspiring to have a job that enables others to solve problems, to realize potential that otherwise would take years to occur, if ever.

Northwest Arkansas has become one of the nation’s best places – you know it when you see it. It’s a place where one can imagine and then realize, with some hard work and access to resources.

What makes me optimistic for the future is the potential and resolve I see in the people who live here. They are committed to building a region that works for everyone.

In the Field is a series featuring Walton Family Foundation staff whose commitment and passion for their work is helping create access to opportunity for people and communities.
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