Encouraging diversity, equity and inclusion in Benton and Washington counties is the focus of a new community-based three-year initiative called TRUE Northwest Arkansas (TRUE).
Supported by the Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation, the program will “foster an environment where all members of the Northwest Arkansas community can thrive and feel included, building on both foundations’ efforts to enhance quality of life in the region” according to a news release from the Walton Family Foundation.
“Access to opportunity and a remarkable lifestyle have helped the region grow significantly and positioned us to become one of the most desirable places to live in the U.S.,” said Steuart Walton, a grandson of Walmart founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and a member of the company’s board, wrote in a statement about the project. “But in order to achieve this status and maintain our remarkable growth trajectory, we must continue to attract and retain the best and brightest who want to call Northwest Arkansas home. To do that, we must work to ensure all members of the community feel welcomed and included in our towns.
The Arkansas Community Foundation will lead efforts for TRUE Northwest Arkansas, with the Walmart Foundation and Walton Family Foundation providing about $2.5 million in support to fund grants for project management and implementation during the startup phase.
The work of TRUE Northwest Arkansas will include training, reporting on the state of inclusion in the region, supporting organizations that work with underrepresented populations, and engaging local communities through a 20-member Advisory Council made up of local business, education, faith, health and social services leaders.
A community engagement website will provide information on training opportunities, a report on the state of inclusion in the region and grantee and learning resources, according to the Walton Family Foundation. The community is encouraged to share their perceptions about diversity, equity and inclusion in the region via an anonymous online survey, conducted by the Arkansas Community Foundation. Findings, to be released in early 2019, will help “build understanding around gaps and barriers,” according to the news release.
Two 10-month long “learning cohorts” will train local champions of diversity and inclusion from multiple sectors, who will ultimately be eligible for funding from the Walmart Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to support projects that emerge during training.
Advisory Council members include: Terry L. Bankston of Bankston Consulting, Kathryn Birkhead of Birkhead Consulting, John L. Colbert of Fayetteville Public Schools, Kim Davis of the Walton Family Foundation, Abdellah Essalki of the Islamic Center of Northwest Arkansas, Mike Gilbert of The Jones Trust, Emily Hackerson of Tyson Foods Upward Academy, Phyllis Harris of Walmart, Ronnie Hoyt of St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church, Debbie Jones of Bentonville Public Schools, Monica Kumar of Kinship, Melisa Laelan of the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, Yvette Murphy-Erby of the University of Arkansas, Nelson Peacock of the Northwest Arkansas Council, Eric Pianalto of Mercy Health System, Anne Shelley of the NWA Center for Sexual Assault, Janie Simms Hipp of the University of Arkansas, Mark Snodgrass of the Bentonville Community Church, Margarita Solórzano of the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas, and Lisa Stuart of the Trans Equality Network.