Improving downtowns and promoting healthier living in Benton County were two main causes the Walton Family Foundation chose to support with its Innovation Completion funding recently awarded to four local nonprofits. The funding limit for each recipient was $25,000, modest by some standards, but enough to help these recipients with their plans.
The program is spearheaded by Steuart Walton, board member for the Foundation, who announced the funding competition in January. He said while big changes are coming to this corner of the state, the Foundation knows how important it is for the close-knit community and small-town quality of life be preserved. He and brother Tom sought to help local groups with small projects that could have greater impacts on the region a whole. The brothers evaluated 40 proposals from area nonprofits seeking funding.
“Our cities have worked hard to develop ambitious plans for downtown neighborhoods. Through this program, we want to motivate communities to join the effort by fostering thriving places to live, work and play. As we continue to grow a strong network of trails and improve access to locally grown food, this program should inspire healthy behaviors in our day-to-day lives,” Steuart Walton noted in January blog post on the Foundation website.
Following are the organizations selected for the Innovation Completion funding.
Main Street Rogers, with its new Farmers Market, plans to develop a certified commissary kitchen for farmers and the local community. The kitchen will feature partnerships with restaurants to hold demonstrations on how to cook locally grown produce. A similar effort is already part of the Bentonville Farmer’s Market. The foundation said a program like this builds on the momentum already happening in downtown Rogers.
The Samaritan Community Center is using its grant to expand its garden and increase the amount of fresh unprocessed food offered in its Snack Pack Program – an initiative that provides food for the weekend to approximately 3,100 low-income kids in Benton County. The grant will also support the center’s café and market, which provide families in need with meals and pantry items.
A grant will support a partnership between the International Mountain Bicycling Association and Camp War Eagle. The organizations will work with after-school programs in Benton County to introduce cycling to underserved youth. Participants will earn the opportunity to attend Camp War Eagle and learn about cycling by fulfilling 20 hours of community service.
The Foundation is partnering with Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks to provide bike racks in the downtown areas of Northwest Arkansas’ four largest cities – Bentonville, Fayetteville, Springdale and Rogers. While the initial scope of Innovation Completion was for Benton County, Walton said the idea proposed by the Coalition had the potential to motivate more local residents to consider cycling as an active transportation option.
“We made the decision to increase the amount of funding so both Washington and Benton counties could benefit from this project,” Steuart Walton said.
It’s no surprise that cycling groups were chosen as the funding recipients given that the Walton brothers are passionate cyclists themselves. The Walton Family Foundation also has been instrumental in funding the Razorback Greenway trail system that connects the region North to South and has greatly promoted cycling throughout Northwest Arkansas.
Also, on Nov. 10-12, the International Mountain Bicycling Association will hold its international summit in Bentonville, bringing in 800 cyclists from around the globe. Steuart Walton, no doubt played a role in getting that event in Bentonville. The city has been rated a Silver-level by the IMBA because it has more than 40 miles of bike trails within the city limits, 20 of those are natural surface. The city’s trail system is favored by the IMBA because a majority of the single-track trails link directly to its urban trail system allowing mountain bikers easy access to the city’s amenities, the organization states on its website.
“Whether the Innovation Competition spurs ideas for public art, improved landscaping, outdoor recreation programs, community gardening or something more, our hope is these creative concepts will inspire us all to preserve the sense of community that make our cities and towns so special,” Steuart Walton said.
He said hearing directly from local leaders about what is needed to improve the region and maintain the community feel was a rewarding experience. The Walton brothers said this is just the beginning and they look forward to seeing these programs in action.