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Hope Chamber holds virtual banquet

By Staff, 10/19/20 10:05 PM

HOPE – A virtual banquet was hosted by the Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce Monday night.

Becky Moore, executive director of the Chamber, welcomed everyone, saying everyone is tired of all the things that have had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, but praised the public for doing what it could to help keep the community healthy and doing what it takes to move forward. She said these are unusual and fearful times but it was appropriate the theme for the banquet was Building Community, Building Hope.

Moore said 2019 was an exciting year for the Chamber and community and the hope is 2021 will be a time to rebuild.

The “banquet” was taped in segments as there was no possibility of getting everyone together in one spot because of the pandemic. Brian Lee, with the United Way of Hempstead County, kicked things off saying the UW raised $77,000 in 2019 with the money going to help 15 local agencies. The top five donors were: New Millennium, Tyson Foods, Rainbow of Challenge, Hope Public Schools and AEP Swepco. Lee said 2020 has been a challenging year for the UW and reminded people to look out for volunteers as the UW packets will be coming out soon.

Chamber President Anna Lee Powell thanked the Chamber board, saying it worked to build the community. Doing this, she added, takes people who are committed to a long term vision. She recognized Clay Lance, the outgoing president, presenting him with a plaque for his service. Lance recognized Steve Mullins for his 13 years of service to the Chamber.

Moore introduced the Chambers “ambassadors”, presenting them certificates of appreciation.

Dixie Coffee, 2019 Citizen of the Year, announced the 2020 winner, Cherry Stewart, saying Stewart embodies everything a good community citizen should, adding Stewart was an activist who supported Hope, served on a number of committees, ran a diner downtown, was born and raised in Hope and has always been a true ambassador for Southwest Arkansas. Coffee pointed out Stewart’s father was a police officer and her mother worked in a beauty salon, while her husband, David, is a pharmacist and her son, Jason, is an orthopedic surgeon in Little Rock.

Stewart said she’d like to see the award go to everyone because there isn’t a time she can remember when the people of Hope didn’t come together when times were tough.

Robin Townsend presented the Educator of the Year award to Mandy Townsend, saying she’s a natural born teacher who puts the needs of her students above all else and helps those students who struggle, along with mentoring other teachers on her own time. She’s willing to try new things to help motivate her students and is always looking for ways to improve. Townsend is a graduate of Hope High School, a member of the Junior Auxiliary and First United Methodist Church.,

Keenan and Peggy Williams presented the Business of the  Year award to Farmers Bank and Trust, saying the business has been in Hope six-and-a-half years, is active in the community and has a team effort at all events, along with implementing children’s events.

Moore followed with a new award, the Nonprofit Award, which was presented to the Rainbow of Challenge. Moore said last year was RoC’s 50th year, and it has created 500 jobs which bring money into the community. RoC, she said, is one of the county’s largest employers with the motto of “Whatever it Takes.”

Hope Mayor Steve Montgomery closed the event, talking about the five-year plan – Thrive Hempstead County. The plan began in 2018 with the Hope-Hempstead County Economic Development Commission and Hope Water and Light funding it. More than 200 citizens were involved with the plan, which is now in book form. “Paths can be changed,” he said, “and redirected.” He pointed out how things have changed because of COVID-19 and added the plan isn’t just a “Hope thing”  but is for the entire county. Mayors from other communities were involved in the planning process. Committees were formed, each submitting goals discussed and agreed upon.

Task forces were created for tourism, public priorities, economic development, education and quality of life. Some of the goals of these task forces are: to make Hempstead County wet, develop an activity center, create county code enforcement and a county water treatment and sewer facilities, a juvenile behavior center, an art district, community theater, water park, splash pad, employability training, business incubator, retail development, historic bike trail, community garden, multicultural festivals, community safety program, concerts, public transportation, a school events calendar, job training academy, more parental involvement in schools, a lead teacher program, and a parent center.

Montgomery said progress is being made in several areas, though changes will have to be made. Overall, he added, there are great opportunities for Hope and Hempstead County and he’s looking forward to a prosperous future