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A culture of support

Sasha Cerrato is the creative director for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. On March 28, she spoke alongside Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson and others at the Arkansas State Capitol in support of Breastfeeding Awareness Day. The following is part of the story she shared that day.

I’m a full-time working mother of two beautiful girls, the youngest of which was born 18 months ago, about 2 ½ years after I started working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

When my first daughter was born, I was working at a different company and had limited success in breastfeeding because it was difficult to balance my work schedule with my pump schedule.

During my second-born’s pregnancy, I was determined to do a better job at managing that balance and have more success with breastfeeding.

The thing I never expected was that this time my employer was eager to help me make it work, too.

I live in Little Rock, but the Institute is about an hour’s commute on Petit Jean Mountain. On my first day back our executive director pulled me aside and told me to do what I needed to do. She recognized how hard the transition would be and encouraged me to take the time I needed to make it work for both the Institute and my family.

Shortly after, our director of communications and marketing, my boss, switched our weekly marketing meeting to a time that better suited my pump schedule, and continued to refer to that schedule for future meetings and events.

Examples like these over the nine months that I pumped while working at the Rockefeller Institute are numerous and came from every level of our company.

The fact is, there is nothing about pumping that is easy. In addition to nursing in the morning and before bed, I had to pump four times a day for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time to inch out the milk it took to sustain my daughter while I was at work. And frankly, the only reason I was able to keep that baby on breastmilk through her first year was because the company I worked for supported me in doing it. The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute saw the value in a mother providing the best nutrition I could for my child. They saw the value in supporting a young family. And that meant doing much more than simply following the letter of the law. There’s a big difference between providing space and providing support. The Institute showed me that difference, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I’ve been blessed to gain a lot of good experience throughout my career, and I’m to a point now that I know I have options should I choose to look for another opportunity. But any time I’ve toyed with the idea of a new career — maybe something closer to home, slightly better pay, etc. — I think about the culture at the Institute, and the support I receive there, and I realize that they’ve made it so I don’t want to leave. They have earned a devoted employee.

And that is far from unique. Study after study shows that family-friendly work cultures increase employee retention, benefit organizational citizenship behavior, and improve work attitudes.

What I hope my story does is present a challenge: What can we be doing to support one another and encourage family-friendly cultures and policies in our respective work spaces? In my mind at least, the question is vital not only to individual families, but to society as a whole.

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Breastfeeding in Arkansas is gaining momentum

The winds of change are blowing in Arkansas when it comes to breastfeeding.

Our state is routinely near the bottom of the country when it comes to the percentage of mothers who breastfeed, but recent efforts promise a brighter future for Arkansas’ nursing moms.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to speak alongside First Lady Susan Hutchinson and state Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) at the State Capitol to commemorate the state’s Breastfeeding Awareness Day as proclaimed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Rep. Bentley organized the event along with Healthy Active Arkansas to draw attention to Arkansas’ laws regarding breastfeeding in public and in the workplace.

In my 20-plus years working as a lactation consultant, I have seen great strides made in understanding, technology and policy regarding breastfeeding. There are many more resources for nursing mothers now than when I first started, and I’m excited to see more and more mothers take advantage of the support that is available.

As the team lead of the Healthy Active Arkansas Breastfeeding priority, I also had the privilege of attending a press conference announcing and celebrating the Baby Friendly designation of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville on Feb. 14. This press conference and celebration, which was also attended by Mrs. Hutchinson, were important because those two birthing hospitals are the first Baby Friendly designated hospitals in Arkansas.

Only 417 U.S. hospitals and birthing centers in 49 states and the District of Columbia hold the Baby Friendly designation. More than 20 percent of annual births (approximately 807,500 births) occur at these Baby Friendly-designated facilities. Every hospital that attains the Baby Friendly designation moves us closer to meeting important public health goals of increasing the proportion of live births that occur in facilities that provide recommended care for lactating mothers and their babies. In 2007, only 2.9 percent of U.S. births occurred in Baby Friendly-designated facilities. The Healthy People 2020 goal is 8.1%.

After the press conference last month, the leadership team and committee members of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville met with Baby Friendly team members from several of the other hospitals around our state that are currently working toward this prestigious and important designation. The information they shared with us was invaluable. They reviewed common roadblocks and solutions and provided needed encouragement for the challenges that will be faced in obtaining designation. With the leadership of our two designated hospitals, and the support of Healthy Active Arkansas, there will be six additional Baby Friendly hospitals in Arkansas within the next two years! 

The Baby Friendly journey creates an environment that is supportive of best practices in maternity care and of optimal infant feeding. The 4–D Pathway is a fit for all institutions; large and small hospitals, for profit and not-for-profit hospitals, teaching hospitals, and hospitals at various stages of development in their breastfeeding support programs. If you would like more information on how your birthing facility can make a commitment to improve infant feeding policies, training and practices by embarking on the 4-D pathway to Baby Friendly designation, visit the Baby Friendly USA website.

Jessica Donahue is a registered nurse and lactation consultant for Baptist Health in Little Rock, Ark. She serves as the breastfeeding priority area lead for Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide health initiative that both Baptist Health and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute helped launch.

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Blue supplies the green that will lead to better rural health care

We are thrilled that our Rural Health Summit is one of 31 projects selected for funding by the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas this year. Established by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield in 2001, the Foundation is a separate nonprofit with the sole mission of funding projects in Arkansas that will improve health care in the state. The funding support from Blue & You allows us to keep participant costs low and bring in outside experts to make the most of our time with our participants. 

The initial planning for the Summit began with discussions about rural health care needs in Arkansas with Dr. Mark T. Jansen, director of regional programming at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and invested chair for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, George K. Mitchell, M.D., Endowed Chair in Primary Care. That conversation expanded to include other health care leaders who have a stake in raising the quality and availability of health care in rural areas. These leaders all supported creating a network of cross-collaboration among the many efforts currently operating in rural Arkansas and looking at manageable, short-term goals to address during the next year to two years. It is our belief that establishing such a network will be an important step toward creating a rural health care environment that will be more attractive to new physicians and foster an increase in quality care.

Near the end of March we will host the first Summit meeting to begin building that collaborative network of healthcare professionals and organizations. We’ll be joined by representatives of some of the state’s leading health groups and professional organizations for a facilitated two-day session to start the process, followed by regional visits and a larger Summit meeting later in the year. Our hope is to foster increased collaboration and resource sharing so that innovative health care solutions can be shared more readily in the state and incoming physicians will have established allies at all points of rural healthcare. 

We are extremely grateful to the Blue & You Foundation for their support. Above and beyond the monetary contribution, their backing of our effort and the 30 other recipients this year represents a belief that we will all be able to make a tangible difference in the state. Carrying that charge and that belief into our working sessions will further underscore the importance of coming together and empower our group to start tackling the challenges facing rural health.

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Art in its Natural State

To know why Arkansas is the Natural State, all one needs to do is take a short trip to Petit Jean Mountain. From impressive views of the Arkansas River Valley, to lakes and rivers, and wide fields and towering pines, Petit Jean offers a wonderful snapshot of Arkansas’ natural beauty. It’s no wonder that Petit Jean has also called to artists throughout the years, from Native American cave art all the way to modern day painters, sculptors and writers.

To celebrate that rich history and add to the artistic legacy of Petit Jean, we here at the Institute are partnering with Petit Jean State Park to host the first Art in its Natural State competition. We have worked with the Park to identify serval sites on our respective campuses that not only exemplify Petit Jean’s varied landscapes, but would also be a great spot for public art. Our contest challenges artists to design temporary, site-specific outdoor works for those areas. The best fit for the competition will likely be structural, sculptural or landscape art, but all designed public art will be considered. You can see all of the sites up for design here.

The artwork will be displayed in its outdoor site for up to one year, then taken down by the artist. The focus for the competition is a balance between the visual appeal of the created artwork and the natural beauty of the space it is designed for. The works must also have neutral impact to the site in which they are installed, meaning that after the works are removed and the area is allowed time to recover, it will be as if there was never any art installed at all.

The temporary nature of the installations is both respectful to Petit Jean’s environment and allows for artists to use creative materials that they might not otherwise work with. A bronze statue will withstand many decades of display, but our more ephemeral artworks needn’t be quite that durable. Though the works that are designed need to stand up to a year of seasonal weather, we hope that artists will incorporate recycled or recyclable materials for their work.  

We will take applications until September of this year, after which point all of the submitted designs will be considered by our judging and advisory panel. Made up of representatives from the Arkansas Arts Council; Arkansas Arts Center; Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; University of Arkansas at Fort Smith; University of Arkansas at Little Rock; the Park; and the Institute, our panel will select 10 winning designs. Those designs will be funded by a $5,000-per-artist stipend to cover the creation of the artwork and its transportation and installation on Petit Jean in March of 2018.

Although focused on the natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain, the Art in its Natural State competition is open to all Southern and Arkansas regional artists. That includes artists from Arkansas, Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Virginia. If you or someone you know is interested in entering the competition, the official rules and application guidelines for the competition can be found here

As we select winners and install the art, we’ll have plenty of updates here and on the Art in its Natural State page. Look for profiles of the winning artists, sneak peeks of the artwork and plenty of photos of the opening event on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Even better than seeing the art online, of course, will be to visit the art in person. We’ll have eight installed pieces at the Institute through March 2019, and the Park will host two installed works through July of 2018. We hope you’ll join us as we celebrate Arkansas’ beauty and the talents of Southern artists with the first Art in its Natural State competition.

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Surprise award

The Institute is extremely proud that Program Officer Samantha Evans was honored with the Arkansas Community Development Society’s New Professional Award. Samantha has been actively involved in community development, especially in Arkansas, for most of her professional years.

This past Friday, two representatives from the Society - including Whitney Horton, pictured above on the left with Sam on the right - came to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute to surprise Sam with the award. Sam was very touched, as you can see on our Facebook page.

Sam comes from five years at Main Street Arkansas serving as its assistant director. In this position, she worked with numerous small- and medium-sized communities throughout the state of Arkansas where she worked to help interested citizens revitalize their downtown.

Sam served both on the board and as peer-elected chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals of Little Rock. Under her leadership as the board chair, Little Rock was selected to host the annual Young Nonprofit Professional National Conference. It was a very successful event highlighting Change Through Head, Heart and Hands. The Change Through Head, Heart and Hands was a national nonprofit leadership conference that in August 2015 brought 150 young, emerging leaders from throughout the nation to Little Rock. Sam played a strong role in promoting central Arkansas tourism for attendees, further deepening the investment and experience attendees had while expanding the event’s economic impact.

She created the monthly speaker series “Coffee with an Expert,” which brings executive directors across various sectors together to speak with YNPN members.  She also developed a fundraising plan to increase membership and sponsorship for the local organization.

Before working for Main Street Arkansas, Sam was the planning technician for the city of North Little Rock for two years. Originally from Perry County, Sam, now of Conway, worked with her home community to help save the Rosenwald School in Bigelow, once listed as one of Arkansas’ Most Endangered Places. She’s written articles on a variety of issues concerning community development and planning including this one.

Sam holds a Professional Community and Economic Developer Certification from the Community Development Council. She has a master’s degree from the Humphry School of Public Affairs in City/Urban Planning with an emphasis in Community and Regional Planning.

She was selected as a Krusell Community Development Fellow and MacArthur Fellow in 2007 as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. During her fellowships she worked with Model Cities CDC, a community-based development organization, and CommonBond, a large affordable housing development and management organization. Her placement experiences included: assisting with funding applications for tax credits; marketing research; data management and analysis; predevelopment planning and funding applications; assistance with façade improvement program; help with real estate closings. 

Sam is a regular speaker at conferences and events, including for the Community Development Institute, the National Main Streets Conference and innumerable local community sessions.

She received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science. In a nice Rockefeller connection, Spelman College, which was founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminar, later changed in honor of Laura Spelman, John D. Rockefeller’s wife, and her parents, who were longtime activists in the anti-slavery movement. 

I had the privilege of working with Sam at a previous job, and I was thrilled when we got to be colleagues again here at the Institute. We’re very proud of her and look forward to seeing how her talent moves our programs forward in the future.

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Testing out some tastes

This week marked the kickoff for a new culinary experience at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. Our culinary director, Chef Robert Hall, has fielded many questions over the years about how various ingredients compare to one another.

“People want to know what the difference is between an ingredient from one place versus the same ingredient that’s from somewhere else,” he explains.

All those questions got Chef Hall to thinking, “maybe this would work as a culinary class.”

And so was born Taste Test, the newest addition to the Institute’s culinary lineup. These Thursday night classes only cost $15, and, true to its name, it’s all about testing out the tastes of one type of ingredient. But that ingredient might have a dozen or more iterations, divided by brand, geography or technique.

The opening class this week covered hot sauce. I’ve had the privilege of sitting through a number of Chef Hall’s other classes. I always learn something, and he’s usually kind enough to let me sample a bite of whatever he and/or the class is making.

But this time I got to go all in. He lined up 14 varieties of hot sauce, ranging from extremely mild (jalapeño-based) to slap-your-momma hot (ghost peppers). I’m not real adventurous when it comes to my palate. I certainly don’t eat things on a dare. But I decided to tough this one out. I tasted each variety, and of the first 12, only the red Tabasco made me reach for the sugar cubes Chef Hall had provided as a fire extinguisher.

We tried a chipotle sauce that was reminiscent of a spicy barbecue sauce. Then there was Chef Hall’s own homemade concoction, for which he used Fresno chilies. This was the class favorite in terms of flavor. We also got to try aji amarillo, a Peruvian sauce made from the pepper of the same name. This was a gift from our creative director, Sasha Cerrato, whose mother is from Peru.

Between each tasting, Chef Hall explained the science behind measuring Scoville units, the standard measurement for heat in spicy food. A jalapeño, for example, is measured at 3,000-5,000 Scoville units. This means that it would take roughly 3,000-5,000 cups of sugar dissolved in water to completely neutralize the heat in a jalapeño pepper.

Lucky No. 13 was a habanero-based sauce, and its heat clung to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter. It was uncomfortable enough that I determined I’d probably rather not reach for it the next time I wanted to give my food an extra kick, but my mouth recovered quickly, and I was no worse for the wear.

Then came the ghost pepper sauce. It was called Dave’s Gourmet Hot Sauce. Sounded harmless enough. I’m not sure who Dave is, but after one tiny taste of his sauce, I decided he’s not my friend.

It took about an hour – and lots of sugar cubes, plus some milk – for the heat to completely subside. That probably just means I have wimpy taste buds, as Chef Hall did point out that reactions to heat and spice in food are very subjective. I don’t mind admitting that. And I’ll be clear, while my sinuses were as open as they’ve been in a while, even the hottest sauce didn’t pose any real danger. Chef Hall made sure of that, and we all had plenty of fair warning. He explained before we dipped our spoons in Dave’s Gourmet Firestarter that ghost peppers measure at up to 800,000 Scoville units.

All in all, I learned a lot. Besides all the chemistry, I learned that there are a number of hot sauces that are quite tasty and add a welcome punch to various foods.

And then there’s Dave’s.

The next Taste Test class will be Feb. 16, and given it’s the week of Valentine’s Day, the star ingredient will be chocolate. Chef Hall gave me and a few co-workers a preview of the chocolate class earlier this week. Trust me when I say you’ll want to be there for that.

Other ingredients to be covered later in the year include olive oil (March 16), cheese (April 20) and bacon (Nov. 16).

Visit our culinary page for a full listing of Taste Test options. Just find Taste Test and then click the plus button to expand the list of individual classes.

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Where others saw a barn, she saw a story

It doesn’t just take an extraordinary amount of vision to think you can take a rundown barn and turn it into a top tourist destination; it takes an epic amount of work and no small dash of chutzpah. Neither was a problem for Dr. Ruth Hawkins when she took on the project of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer House in Piggott, Ark. Now if you’re a film buff, you’ll know that Piggott is where Eliza Kazan shot A Face in the Crowd starring Andy Griffith (before his eponymous television show), but in fact its place in history was cemented much earlier as the home of Earnest Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Papa would visit Piggott in the 1930s, and the family turned the barn into a writing studio for Hemingway. It’s there where he wrote much of his epic A Farewell to Arms.

The story of the community and the site needed a champion. Locals knew of the visits and the writing, but sometimes it takes an outsider to help a place appreciate long overlooked jewels. That’s who Ruth Hawkins is – the kind of person who can see things others can’t. Where others saw an old barn, Ruth saw a story. She knows that heritage means business, but it has to be shined and made ready for the public. Today, the Hemingway Pfeiffer House is a destination for tourists all around. It’s the best example of the many, many jewels she’s found and cultivated throughout her beloved Arkansas Delta. It’s the best because she wasn’t simply satisfied in making the place a tourist destination. No, she had to go on and become a Hemingway scholar, presenting at conferences across the world and authoring the only book on Pauline, Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow.

She’s the driving force of the restoration and major storyteller behind Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village, the only remaining antebellum plantation home on the Mississippi; she’s responsible for the Southern Tennent Farmers’ Museum in Tyronza, which tells the story of sharecropping and the organized farm labor movement; she is responsible for helping keep alive the story of Arkansas’ Japanese Internment Camp at Rohwer, where future Star Trek star George Takei was imprisoned; as well as the Historic Dyess Colony: Johnny Cash Boyhood Home. There’s more. She’s a member of the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame, Arkansas Tourism Person of the Year, she’s won a National Trust for Historic Preservation Honor Award as well as Preserve Arkansas’s Parker Westbrook Lifetime Achievement Award. The list goes on. If you want to learn how to capitalize on the heritage of your community, there is no better person in the world to learn from than Ruth Hawkins. She’ll be at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Friday from noon to 2 p.m. Get your tickets at https://ruthhawkinsuncommoncommunities.eventbrite.com.

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'Together we can become worthy of the moment'

Working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and living atop Petit Jean Mountain, I am blessed with easy access to some of the prettiest scenic views in Arkansas. I can’t help but think that the picturesque vistas looking westward off of Petit Jean’s broad plateau is part of what kept Winthrop Rockefeller in Arkansas.

But Rockefeller’s view of Arkansas went well beyond his recognition of its natural beauty. From his farm, home and office on Petit Jean, he could see not just the physical attributes of the Arkansas River Valley, he cast a vision for the future of a state that, in the 1950s and ‘60s, was hanging in the balance.

That vision led him into politics, and 50 years ago today, he was sworn in as the 37th governor of the state of Arkansas.

A lot has changed in Arkansas in 50 years, and much of the positive change that has happened here can be traced back to the two terms that Winthrop Rockefeller served as governor.

Today I was privileged to sit in the gallery as Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered his State of the State address to a joint assembly of the Arkansas Legislature. At the suggestion of our director of programs, Janet Harris, we reached out to the governor’s office to remind them that the State of the State address happened to fall on the monumental anniversary of Winthrop Rockefeller’s inauguration.

Gov. Hutchinson opened his address with a quote from Rockefeller’s inaugural speech:

“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I … a moment subject to special scrutiny … laden with special challenges … and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.”

Hutchinson followed that quote with a charge to the Legislature: “Today, we have our own moment in history, and we can only be worthy of this moment if we work together.”

Commitment to a collaborative approach to problem-solving was a hallmark of not just Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration, but his entire life. I was proud to hear that sentiment echoed 50 years from the time he first took office.

I was also struck by some of the parallels between the two governors’ priorities. Hutchinson today spoke of the need for more efficiency in government. This was also a priority of Rockefeller, who dramatically reduced the total number of state agencies during his tenure as governor.

Hutchinson touted recent economic development efforts throughout the state, citing Sig Sauer in Jacksonville, Sun Paper in Arkadelphia, Metova in Conway, Mars Petcare in Fort Smith, FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro and J.B. Hunt in Rogers. Before running for governor, Rockefeller served as the chair of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, a precursor to today’s Economic Development Commission. He helped usher in more than 600 new industries in Arkansas, resulting in more than $250 million in added salaries.

I’d like to think that if Gov. Rockefeller could have heard today’s State of the State address, he would be proud to hear how far we’ve come as a state. But he would also roll up his sleeves and prepare for the work yet to be done.

A mentor once told me that if I wanted to truly make a difference in my life, I needed to become a part of something that would outlive me. He also suggested that if we hope to see our work completed, we simply have not asked big enough questions. Winthrop Rockefeller personified this philosophy and dared to ask big questions. He took on challenges that he knew he would not live to see conquered.

As I reflect on the work of the Institute and on the indelible legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller on this important anniversary, I am inspired by his accomplishments, but also by his heart and his approach—which was to engage and empower others and to encourage them to aim high toward answering the big questions.

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Outside the box and into the mud

Pulling up to Tommy and Susan Conder’s farm just outside Judsonia, there’s little at first glance that makes it stand out from the countless other farms that dot Arkansas’ landscape.

But not far beyond the pastures where the Conders’ cattle grazes is a challenge waiting to be conquered.

A few years back, Tommy and Susan attended a Natural Resource Enterprise workshop in Stuttgart. Put on by the NRE program at Mississippi State University, the workshop was designed to spark the imaginations of farmers and landowners as to how their land could do more to make money than simply produce livestock, row crops or timber.

The wheels began turning for Tommy and Susan, who quickly recognized that there was a lot more they could do with the 800 acres of land in White County that they and one of Tommy’s sons own.

“Some people at that workshop,” Tommy said, “they were doing corn mazes and things like that on their land. We thought, ‘We’ve got other stuff we could do.’”

That “other stuff” eventually became an 8-kilometer obstacle course that spans a large portion of the Conders’ farm – most of it land not suitable for grazing, but perfect for mud pits, climbing walls, hay bale obstacles and water slides, just to name a few of the course’s features.

The Beast

Tommy and Susan recently took me and Program Officer Samantha Evans on a tour of the course, and although the temperatures were a fair bit cooler than they are in May when they hold their big annual competition – Mud Mayhem – it was easy to get a sense of the type of atmosphere that exists on race day.

“We really love people laughing and having a good time,” Tommy said.

But all the fun and laughter requires quite a bit of careful planning. It takes a staff of 20-30 to make the race happen, and they are trained for several weeks leading up to the event. Susan takes care of the planning and logistics - hiring and training folks from the surrounding area - while Tommy focuses on building and managing the course itself.

“I’m not a businessman,” Tommy said. “I’m a worker.”

Susan agreed and praised Tommy for his resourcefulness in constructing the course.

“If I can describe it to Tommy, he can build it,” she said.

The finish

Eight hundred acres is no small piece of property, and the Conders have imaginations big enough to fill it all and then some. Tommy admitted that in the five years they’ve held Mud Mayhem, they have yet to break even. But that’s only because they keep building and adding onto the course.

“We’ve sunk quite a bit of money into it,” Tommy said. “Would I go back and change that? No. We can still see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

And they’re finding new and creative ways to diversify the potential of what they’ve already built. Tommy explained that most of the obstacles on the course are mobile. They plan to load a number of them up on trailers next year and set up a course at Portfest in Jacksonport. They’re looking at other opportunities to take their obstacles on the road, too.

But more important to the Conders than finding ways to make money off their land is the way they’ve been able to give back.

A few years ago, Tommy’s son Sean returned home after serving a tour in Afghanistan as part of the Air Force. Tommy explained how Sean’s unit was involved in combat and survived life-threatening situations.

“They came back pretty spooked,” Tommy said. “We wanted to find a way to help them feel normal again.”

So Tommy and Susan organized their first Heroes R&R, an experience they have since expanded to include members of the military, firefighters, law enforcement officers and health care workers – all those who serve on the front lines of emergency situations. The Conders organize excursions for these groups, which may involve camping, fishing, trap shooting or the obstacle course. They utilize the eight-bedroom lodge they’ve built for these experiences, and the results have been amazing.

After that first experience with Sean’s Air Force unit, Sean’s squadron commander told Tommy, “This has brought our squadron back together.”

Tommy and Susan are exploring grant money that is available to support the excursions, hoping that it will help them expand what they offer.

Parachute

For what looks like a standard 350-head cattle operation from a distance, Tommy and Susan Conder have built something spectacular. And it all started with the spark of an idea at a workshop for landowners.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is partnering with Mississippi State University and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service to present a similar workshop here at the Institute on Thursday, March 9. The workshop, which is supported by the Arkansas Forestry Association, the Arkansas Forestry Commission and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, will be geared toward landowners who produce timber, but all landowners are welcome and stand to gain some knowledge about income diversification, land management, the Farm Bill, legal issues and more.

Learn more about the Landowners Workshop by clicking here.

You can learn more about Mud Mayhem here or on the race’s Facebook page here.

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Out of many, one

In September, I went into the first session of Leadership Conway County not quite sure what to expect. It started with a two-day retreat with a group of people whom I had never met. I was curious as to what we would be learning as well as doing for the betterment of Conway County. After just three sessions into our 10 month program, I have learned more about the needs of our community, as well as what our group wants and desires from these classes. And, unexpectedly, I have learned more about myself in the process.

The Leadership Conway County Class of 2017 (or LCC 2.0 … we do not have an official name at the moment) is quite a unique group. The members range from a senior in high school to the chief of police; a Vietnam veteran-turned-city councilman to a man who participates in timber sports in his spare time; school teachers to a conference food service manager. We all see different areas of the community, which helps to give a unique perspective on the needs of the citizens. The classes so far have ranged from a jovial getting-to-know-each-other retreat to an emotional session on what makes a great leader. And we are really just getting started, being only three sessions into the class.

At our first meeting, after introductions, I learned a little about the history of Conway County, including the importance and changes that came by Winthrop Rockefeller moving to the county. Some of the story I had already heard, but being able to hear some personal vignettes made the influence more real. Jerry Smith, our interim leader (he emphasizes the interim part), put together a great two-day program, which helped us not only get to know each other, but aided us in defining what we felt were the needs and wants of our community. The next session, which started as an interactive exercise on communication, became a discussion on the different types of citizens within our community and what ways we can work with all of them to help get things done. Since the majority of the members have lived in Conway County either all of their lives or at least more than half of their life, I was able to interject my experiences not being from the area. Our latest session was spent hearing from two speakers on the importance of leadership and what makes someone an effective person. I learned the most about myself during this session. And by knowing more about me, I can use what I have to help others. The other members are not necessarily involved for the same reasons, but our ultimate goal is shared: We all want our county to grow. We want it to be a place we are proud to call home, a place to raise a family, a place the residents want to stay.

I am honored to be involved with this group of citizens who are all wanting to get to work on helping their community grow. Though we are still finding our footing, the Leadership Conway County Class of 2017 is sure to spend the next few months getting things rolling in the community.

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