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Delta Magic. Drew Smith 5

Unleashing Joy: The Magic of Community Building in the Delta

April 11, 2024
A coalition-building organization in the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta is connecting the dots between what people want and how to find it

Drew Smith is what some might call a joy broker. If you ask what he does, he explains it like this: “When we meet with people, we ask what brings them joy. We ask how they want to feel in their community and what is going to help them feel that way. Then, we go out and plan it together.”

Joy in the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta means different things to different people. For some, it means free workshops on how to start a business. Or lessons on how youth can stay in their neighborhoods without moving to find more opportunity. For others, it could mean a school garden, community movie night or discovering a new speakeasy with Blues and cocktails.

For Drew, the magic is in uncovering this joy.

A Delta native, Drew is the co-founder of Delta Magic. Today, his Helena, Arkansas-based nonprofit specializes in coalition building. Delta Magic acts like a sounding board for community events and change.

Celebrating the Delta: Drew Smith and Delta Magic
Drew Smith is in the business of creating joy. Through his Helena, Arkansas-based nonprofit Delta Magic, Drew is connecting the dots between what people want and how to find it. The organization is playing a vital role in building the social infrastructure in the community.

“Essentially,” says Drew, “we want to make sure that people who need resources can find them and people that have resources can find their audience.”

The Walton Family Foundation supports local organizations like Delta Magic because we recognize that building a vibrant, equitable Delta for the long haul won't happen without collaboration. It will take a coalition of local, regional and national partners to find lasting solutions.

After moving away for college, Drew says he felt drawn to return to the Delta for what he calls “the warmth and welcoming nature of this place.” He says misconceptions abound about his community, where he says he “never runs out of fun things to do.”

“I hear a lot about people coming in to try and “save” Helena because the people here are apathetic. I reject that,” says Drew.

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Delta Magic founder Drew Smith talks with a Helena, Arkansas resident during a "Wine Down Wednesday" event at Gist Music. Delta Magic hosts the events for downtown businesses on the first Wednesday of every month.

To change that narrative, Drew and his team help identify the exciting happenings already underway -- spreading the word through tools like a centralized community calendar. “We know there are people doing good things every day here who are never in the spotlight,” he says. “Highlighting their work brings other people to the table who want to engage, but don't know how.”

One thing Drew heard from his neighbors was that they wanted to trick-or-treat like they used to. “We made a map of trick-or-treat-friendly houses, put signs up and saw a huge increase in trick-or-treaters.”

It’s a seemingly small gesture that Drew says illustrates why Delta Magic is so important.

“I had a person [at Halloween] ask if she could give me a hug because she was so excited about all the trick-or-treaters. She's buying up all this Halloween stuff for next year so that she can go all out. It’s proof of concept that when people are shown how to engage, they will engage.”

Delta Magic. Drew Smith 6
“We know there are people doing good things every day here who are never in the spotlight,” says Drew Smith. “Highlighting their work brings other people to the table who want to engage, but don't know how.”

Of this neighbor and others, Drew says he never wants anyone to feel excluded from all the exciting things happening in Helena.

“We all have our social circles, but when information is only spread by word of mouth, it’s inherently inequitable. Whether it's an event, a scholarship, a new job or housing, we want to make sure that information is spread equitably.”

Building the social infrastructure for his community is a job that Drew says must fall to the people who know that community best.

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By building coalitions within the community, Delta Magic is helping weave a deeper, more engaging social fabric in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas.

“This is a challenge that a lot of people who are smarter and wealthier have tried to crack, but they can’t. And that’s because they are starting out from the outside. They don’t have all the answers, and the only way that we move forward is if we do it together.”

As the work of his organization continues, Drew likens the work of coalition building to weaving a deeper, more engaging social fabric.

“Eventually, we want to tie a string between all these organizations and people -- the movers, shakers, doers in our community -- so that when we pull on those strings, it pulls everyone together.”

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