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Wednesday August 26, 2015

IMPACT Independence County update

By Bob Qualls
Contributing Writer

Residents of Independence County have until August 30 to voice their opinions on what the county’s top priorities should be in the future. That’s when the Impact Independence County Survey ends.

The survey is the first step in the countywide strategic planning process called Impact Independence County. The Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Lyon College and the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) are leading the planning process.

The initiative was launched July 1 at a community meeting held at UACCB. Several hundred citizens attended the meeting and Gov. Asa Hutchinson addressed the crowd.

Deborah Frazier, chancellor at UACCB, said the strategic planning project began with an idea developed by Phil Baldwin, Citizens Bank president and CEO, and Crystal Johnson, Batesville Area Chamber president and CEO. Frazier and Don Weatherman, president of Lyon College, are co-chairs of the project.

Johnson explained the purpose of the IMPACT initiative and said the county needs to focus on future opportunities. The process begins with the survey, which is available online at Printed copies of the survey were provided at the meeting, and attendees were encouraged to fill them out before they left. The survey also is available at kiosks and events through August 30.

More than 1,000 citizens have responded to the survey so far, according to Jamie Beck, the director of programs and events at the Chamber. Of these, 951 responses have been tabulated.

The leading priority so far, according to the survey, is job creation. In fact, it is leading the other categories by a wide margin with more than 700 votes. The next closest category is small business with just under 400 votes. This is followed by youth with about 350 votes. 

Many of the priorities listed on the survey are related. If combined, the choices related to job creation, such as workforce, established industry, retail development, and White River development, it becomes clear and jobs and economic development are definite priorities.

The survey’s final results will be made public September 1. Opportunities for impacting the county will be identified and subcommittees will be formed for each area of focus. Committees will develop goals and objectives for each priority. They also will develop an action plan to achieve the goals that are identified. The program of work would be announced in late January (tentatively scheduled for Jan. 22, 2016), according to Johnson.

More than 300 respondents have offered to serve on the committees, which Johnson considers a positive sign of community involvement.

There would likely be six or seven committees formed, according to Johnson, so there will be consolidation of the more than 40 priorities listed on the survey.

The committee members noted that Conway (Faulkner County) conducted a similar survey previously and that their results showed no distinctive top priority. Independence County’s clearly shows job creation in the number one priority.

Conway officials reported to Baldwin that their strategic planning effort (known as Conway 2025) led their community forward in economic development. (The Conway Area Chamber of Commerce led the Conway 2025 plan in 2009-10. It was adopted by the city of Conway in 2011.)

A similar survey was conducted in a California community where Weatherman noted he once lived, and he reported that crime and law enforcement was a big concern. Public safety is listed on the Independence County survey, and it has only about 250 votes so far as a priority.

The IMPACT Independence County survey is the first step in identifying the priorities through public input. The committee emphasizes that this is the opportunity for every citizen to have a voice in the plans for the future of the community. 

The Side Street Steppers to perform at the Ozark Foothills FilmFest annual fundraiser

The Side Street Steppers

Ozark Foothills FilmFest, Inc. will hold its annual fundraising event on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. Proceeds from “Steppin’ Out with the Side Street Steppers” will support the annual Ozark Foothills FilmFest and the annual T Tauri Movie Camp, a summer artist residency project offering video production workshops for kids and teens. The event will take place at Elizabeth’s Restaurant, 231 E. Main Street in Batesville.

The highlight of the event is a performance by the Side Street Steppers from Memphis, Tenn. The Steppers have released three CDs and maintain a robust touring schedule throughout the Memphis area.

“People are always asking us what kind of music we play, and I am usually at a loss to sum up the wide range of our styles and traditions in a single word or short phrase,” said Christian Stanfield, a founding member and the driving force of the four piece band. “We needed a term that handily defined what we do and whom we represent, and thus ‘Vintage Music.’ Vintage Music is old music, but not just any old music. Vintage Music is timeless, as exciting to listen to today as it was when first performed. We give you blues, jazz, country, hokum, jug band, fiddle tunes and more. This is the music of America, of all the people who have come and gone and contributed a verse to our national song. Collectively, it tells the story of who we are and where we have been—what we have endured and how we got through.”

“The Steppers don’t just play the fool out of their banjos, banjo-ukuleles, and tricked-out washboards,” wrote Chris Davis of Memphis Flyer. “They build their instruments from scratch and know them intimately. Shows almost always include percussive folk dancing, some burlesque, and the kind of entendre-laden, tent-show humor that made your great-grandaddy spit his dentures.”

Tickets for “Steppin’ Out” are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. They can be purchased at Elizabeth’s Restaurant or through the mail by emailing or calling (870) 251-1189. Appetizers and drinks are included. 


Jacksonport State Park celebrates birthday Saturday

A fiftieth birthday celebration in honor of the creation of Jacksonport State Park will be held Saturday, Aug. 28, in Jacksonport. The event, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., will feature guest speakers from the Arkansas Parks and Tourism as well as the Jackson County Historical Society, which played a major role in the creation of Jacksonport State Park. The park opened in 1965.

Guests will be able to experience the Jacksonport of the 19th century, with a Civil War encampment and demonstrations of cannons, muskets and rifles. Also on tap are tours of the historic Jacksonport Courthouse Museum, which will display exhibits in honor of the birthday, as well as a special program highlighting the early history of Jacksonport.

For more information, contact Jacksonport State Park at (870) 523-2143. 

Batesville non-profit organizations and churches welcome Lyon College freshmen

Town and gown came together last Wednesday evening at Lyon College in Batesville, when 27 community organizations and about 100 students mingled at the college’s Non-Profit & Church Fair. Designed to introduce Lyon freshmen to opportunities in Batesville, it also attracted a number of returning students.

“We wanted to bring the Batesville community together with our students to share what they do,” said Jonathan Davey, student engagement specialist at Lyon College. “We want our students to get involved not just here on campus, but in the community where they will be living for four years.”

Several churches informed the students about both their worship schedules and chances to volunteer, such as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s weekly soup kitchen.

Civic and community groups, including Rotary, Kiwanis, Ozark Gateway Tourist Council, and the Independence County Democratic Party, invited students to participate. They were also invited to make their ideas known to the ongoing county-wide strategic planning effort to emphasize the students’ value to the community.

The Old Independence Regional Museum, Batesville Area Arts Council, and Batesville Community Theater also encouraged students to expand their interests and have fun by visiting their locations, attending performances, or working behind the scenes.

Charitable organizations handed out information and signed up volunteers for projects as varied as adult literacy, housing for the homeless and victims of domestic violence, and Special Olympics. Also recruiting help was Habitat for Humanity, which was established locally by Lyon College students and professors.

“We thought this was a great way to showcase local organizations and show our students all the good things these groups do,” said Davey. “We already have designated service days that get the students out into the county, but we want them to know they can do more and learn outside the classroom.”

Davey expects this to become an annual event. 

Carly Dahl (left), executive director of the Batesville Area Arts Council, visits with Lyon College's Jonathan Davey at a recent event welcoming the college's freshmen to town.

Area United Way campaign for school supplies and more concludes

The third annual “Stuff the Bus” and second annual “Best Foot Forward” campaigns recently concluded a successful year gathering school supplies and athletic shoes.

Citizens Bank of Batesville helped United Way of Independence County start “Stuff the Bus” in 2013 as lead sponsor of the event and has helped it grow each year. Over 80 community volunteers came together to help collect over 8,500 school supplies ranging from crayons, glue sticks, pens, pencils, notebook paper, markers, facial tissue, spiral notebooks, folders, binders, erasers, backpacks and more.

In 2014, the Wood Family Dealerships teamed up with United Way to add “Best Foot Forward” to the event, an initiative geared towards providing athletic shoes to students in need. This year, with contributions from dealerships, the John Hermann Hickman Foundation, the Rotary Club of Batesville and the community, 336 pairs of athletic shoes were purchased for students in need.

“Our United Way has a small staff of two, so we rely heavily on the community to help us with our work,” said Allison Phelps, executive director of United Way of Independence County. “Our corporate sponsors and the local media are very important to the success of this program as they provide advertising and coverage of the event that we would not otherwise have. They really help us get the word out and encourage our community to give back. Most of the school supplies we receive are collected on the day of the event from the shoppers at Walmart and most of the shoes are purchased in a bulk order at a discounted rate from Walmart. This year thanks to our corporate sponsors, volunteers and the community ‘Stuff the Bus’ and ‘Best Foot Forward’ was a success and we look forward to expanding our sponsorships next year and being able to provide more supplies and shoes for kids in need.”

The school supplies and athletic shoes were sorted, divided and distributed to the schools in our area, including Batesville, Cave City, Cedar Ridge, Midland and Southside School Districts. The local school counselors and teachers will identify the students in need and distribute the supplies and shoes to those who need them the most.

“I was so proud and overwhelmed by the number of volunteers that showed up to make this event a success,” said Phelps. “I was especially proud of the students who see the need for this campaign and showed up to help. The school districts really showed up for us, including the cheerleaders, Prancers, student council, Key Club, Beta Club, 4H from across Independence County and Cave City, and many others. “United Way wants to thank all partners, sponsors, more than eighty volunteers of all ages and all the shoppers who generously donated items to ensure children were ready for school.”