Ashdown Makes Readers and Leaders with Great Community Programming
Two women. Two missions. One town. The future of Ashdown, Ark. may lie in their hands.
Rebecca Burns is the county librarian at the Ashdown Community Library where she’s basically a one woman show. She recruits volunteers, organizes books, and conducts programming like the Summer Reading Club, a collaborative effort with other states.
“We’ve been in this facility since 1981,” Burns says as she looks around the former post office that was built during the 1950s under the Eisenhower administration. “As you can see, we’re running out of room.” Books line every shelf, top to bottom, and as much as Burns would love to accept book donations, she simply doesn’t have a place to put them all.
Despite the cramped quarters, however, Burns says the community continues to support the library, particularly during the summer months. In July alone, she’s circulated some 1,700 books. “Our summer programs have grown too,” Burns says. “We used to only have a children’s program, now over the past two years we’ve added teen and adult programs too.”
Funds are tight and Burns is looking for new ways to fund programs, add staff and eventually find a bigger facility to house the library. Unlike New Boston Public Library, the Ashdown Community Library no longer has a “Friends of the Library” program. “We used to have one,” Burns recalls, “but it disbanded when the state said we were a county agency and not a city one.”
Still, Burns is optimistic about the future. Three counties are now pulling resources to create a new and improved library system. “Hopefully there will be more money coming in and I can get some part-time help!”
A block away in a 1908 train depot, the Little River Chamber of Commerce organizes events that showcase the businesses within the community. Like Burns, Director Debbie Crouch doesn’t sit on her laurels. She’s always out promoting the best things in town, from the Business Socialize After 5 soirées held at member businesses to the Farmer’s Market across the street that sells watermelons, pecans, fried pies, and homemade salsas and jams.
The project, perhaps, that she is most proud of is the Little River Leadership Program she organizes. “So far, we’ve graduated 74 participants, and soon we’ll start our seventh class,” Crouch says.
The program teaches future community leaders with assorted college programs about topics like active listening, coaching, and setting priorities.
“Then we tour Little River County,” Crouch says. They visit sites and museums to gain an historical perspective of the county. Then they discuss economic development during tours to Domtar, Ashgrove and other businesses.
The continued importance of agricultural development is emphasized during visits to the grass farms before switching gears and moving on to hospitals and schools. Participants must also attend chamber board meetings, city council meetings, and other meetings within the community.
This year, Crouch is adding a “Welcome to Arkansas” component to the program to help increase tourism and get people to stay in the state.
The program lasts from August to May. Graduates of the program keep in contact as alumni and Crouch watches them flourish as they tackle new roles within the community.
To be selected for the program, participants must live or work in Little River County. Before the completion of the program, each class tackles a project, from creating a map featuring points of interest, building a house for Santa, or planning events like the Taste of Little River County, which started last October. The first leadership class created the video below.