25Jun2022
COVID-19 Big Hearts Policy Update Calling All Climate Champions To Apply
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Contacts

3 E Colt Square Drive, Fayetteville, AR 72703

Info@CommunitiesU.org

479.443.2700

FY2021

Water Down The Road In The Texas Panhandle

Shamrock is a city in Wheeler County, Texas. The city is located in the eastern portion of the Texas Panhandle along Interstate 40 and U.S. Route 83. The name Shamrock was suggested by Irish immigrant sheep rancher George Nickel when he applied in 1890 to open a post office at his home. He suggested the name, Shamrock for good luck and fortune. The city became official in 1903 when the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway arrived and officially named the town Shamrock. 

In August 2020, Shamrock’s Mayor Lynn Ramsey and City Secretary Annette Walden reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development (USDA, RD) about a rate study. They wondered if they could qualify for a grant to assist the city in updating their water system. Clyde Jenkins from USDA, RD, referred them to Communities Unlimited Community Environmental Management Specialist Kurt Grant.  

Kurt visited Shamrock in September of 2020, provided an overview of CU, and explained how CU could assist with loan/grants and rate studies. The City of Shamrock is looking to update the city’s water system with assistance from USDA, RD. Kurt worked with USDA, RD, and the city to start working on the project. 

Communities Unlimited has provided a rate analysis and assisted Shamrock in increasing their rates to repay loans received through USDA, RD. Shamrock will be able to adjust its rates to allow accurate billing. They are working to extend service to a new business located on the city’s outskirts. CUs and USDA, RDs assistance has provided the resources for the city to replace two ground storage tanks and the north transmission line of the new elevated storage tank. 

Communities Unlimited continues to work with the city of Shamrock as they continue working on completing their infrastructure upgrades. 

FY2021

Building The Future

Waldron is a city in Scott County, Arkansas, located near the Oklahoma border and Fort Smith, Arkansas. The City of Waldron, Arkansas, was selected to participate in the Community Sustainability Program with Communities Unlimited.  

In the spring of 2020, CU held training for Waldron community leadership called WealthWorks. WealthWorks is a framework for doing economic development differently and is recognized around the country for a process that focuses on community assets, not deficiencies. After completing the training, the community facilitator had each team identify local assets. 

Through these processes, CU assisted Waldron in identifying the opportunities where they had the most challenges. They came up with three areas of focus, Business Compassion, Community Center and Housing. With CU’s guidance, Waldron developed a plan for the three areas.  

  1.  Business Compassion – They will work with the Chamber of Commerce on capacity development to make entrepreneurs and small business owners a high priority. The team identified several projects that, when implemented, will facilitate training for knowledge and skill-building, workforce development, networking and expansion of new business in the community.  
  2.  Community Center – Although Waldron already has a Boys and Girls Club, they want to explore the development of a Waldron Community Center. A community center would provide a wide variety of services. It could be structured to offer after-school, summer childcare, serve seniors, a food bank, adult learning services and much more.  
  3. Housing – Housing has been a recurring theme with the Waldron Community Leadership Team. Issues such as affordable housing, abandoned housing, low real estate inventory and low new build inventory have been discussed.  

The team agreed that they would like to address some aspects of these challenges with housing. A way to address housing was identified within the Waldron School District. Based on the Superintendent of Waldron Schools’ suggestions, the team envisioned a project that would address many of their housing issues. The program created incorporates skilled trades, workforce development, affordable housing development, youth leadership development, real estate inventory and rehabilitating abandoned housing. 

A great deal of important work has already been completed in Waldron. The progress made is a strong foundation for the local leadership team to build economic and community development in Waldron. The team is implementing strategies to identify solutions for other opportunities. The team will likely revisit early community discussions and bring additional community members into the process. As the work continues in Waldron, CU will focus on connecting working groups to resources. CU will continue to support them in accomplishing their goals to build sustainable programs that promote sustainable impact in the community. 

FY2021

Breaking The Cycle

Doshon and Latisha Johnson decided early on that being from the wrong side of the tracks would not stop them from fulfilling their dreams and helping others in the process. They were both born into generational poverty, and both had the drive needed to make things better for themselves and the north side of Amarillo, Texas.  

The Johnson’s grew up on the city’s north side, and both still have family and friends there. It was important to them to reinvest in their community where they still have strong ties. There are only a few Black-owned businesses in Amarillo. 

The Johnson’s wanted to build affordable housing so they started a nonprofit. They tried to bring other investors and business owners together to make their dream a reality. They had a commitment from the mayor, the city manager, and the president of Amarillo Community Development, but the money just wasn’t there. Then COVID-19 hit, and the project didn’t take shape. When plans fell through, one of the business partners told Doshon that he needed to build the dream, one piece at a time. The Johnson’s had the pieces together for the project. Still, the business partner explained that the Johnson’s had the capacity within themselves to get things done. 

They had the power needed to be the builder and develop the next plan. They may have good resources, but if they didn’t have the drive and a plan, then there could be issues. Doshon started thinking, only he and Latisha could decide what was next for them. The Johnson’s decided to take a step back and gain momentum. They decided to break it down and figure out how to create more revenue to grow and mold themselves into a business. They wanted to keep themselves going so that he would not lose the momentum of becoming a developer someday. The couple took the advice and decided to start small to see where their ambition and drive could take them. They bought a dump truck, and things took off for them. At this point, they decided to start their own business and create opportunities to change lives by providing a way for others out of generational poverty. This time, the Johnson’s did it without a business partner. What better way to prove that they could do it, than show that they could do it on their own. 

Doshon shares that deciding to make that change came easy. Still, establishing Urban Heights Investments, LLC., was a challenge and much harder than they anticipated.. The business currently transports construction materials via a bright yellow dump truck. He and Latisha purchased the dump truck on their own and then started reaching out to banks for a small business loan. After going from bank to bank, they decided to reach out to Communities Unlimited. Doshon explains that CU understood him as an individual and provided him and his wife the opportunity to grow themselves, whereas other banks just said no. “CU not only provided the funding for the business but also taught us the knowledge that goes along with owning a company. They taught us how to put a business model together and how to make sure our books are in order.” Doshon shared what he said in a conversation with CU’s, Entrepreneurship Management Consultant, Katy Parrish, “Everything that CU provided, we would have otherwise gone without, in a traditional loan.” 

Doshon said that he and Latisha can now give back to their community by teaching them how to add value to their lives. Doshon shared that many people in Amarillo’s north side look to the Johnson’s to be a success for the community. He wants Urban Heights, LLC., to be that success. Doshon says that everything requires a team at home. Anything significant that anyone sees in him is the added value of having Latisha and the rest of the people who genuinely support him in his corner. Doshon said that he is the face of the company, but Latisha runs the office. They are a team. 

The Johnsons are learning a lot during their journey. They want their friends and family to understand that no matter where you came from or where you start, it does not have to be where you end up. You have to work and put up a fight. Although the journey is not always easy, Doshon and Latisha have a vision for Urban Heights, LLC. They want to leave a legacy to their children and show them how to be present and accountable, create success, and how hard work and dedication can pay off in the long run. They want to grow Urban Heights, LLC into a strong brand that shows their community that things can improve no matter how bad your circumstances. 

Urban Heights, LLC has been in business for a year now. Doshon and Latisha are excited about where they came from and what is ahead for them and their business and look forward to being a catalyst for their community as they continue to grow. They recently received a small business loan from Communities Unlimited funded by a grant from the Wells Fargo Open for Business Fund. The Johnson’s are purchasing a second truck to expand their business and create more opportunities in Amarillo.

FY2021

A Sign of Hope

When Amanda and Melvin Khanga decided to attend an event with family and friends to honor Veteran’s Day, she had no idea just how much the event would change their lives. 

Amanda said she has always believed things happen for a reason. On Veteran’s Day 2020, Amanda discovered a new goal for her and her husband. She wandered around the event, looking at all the flags and listening to all the speeches. Something and someone caught her eye. She watched as a gentleman set up a display booth for Card My Yard, Northwest Arkansas. Amanda was familiar with the idea where individuals hire a company that puts sign displays in people’s yards and in front of businesses for a day to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, weddings and other milestones. She was intrigued and decided to talk to the man. The man explained that he was setting it up for his wife, who owns the business. They spoke, and the man told Amanda that his wife was trying to sell off part of the area she served.  

The COVID-19 pandemic boosted the popularity of the business, and the orders had increased. The man’s wife was extremely busy running the business. Her territory consisted of a large portion of Northwest Arkansas, from Fayetteville to Bella Vista, to the Oklahoma state line. Since the business was doing so well, his wife wanted to expand. So, she was trying to sell off part of her service area.  

Amanda’s mind started racing. Firecrackers went off inside her head. She called her husband, Melvin, over to listen to the story. As they left the display and enjoyed the rest of the day with family, Amanda could not get Card My Yard out of her head. She thought this might be something for her and Melvin to explore. 

Amanda and Melvin both have good jobs, but they don’t have money saved for the future. Amanda is known for getting ideas in her head and running them by Melvin. He always supported her from the side, but this was different. This time Melvin was equally on-board. They decided to go to lunch and talk about the idea of becoming business owners. Amanda and Melvin prayed about this opportunity, and a week later, they shared the news with family. Amanda got in touch with the Card My Yard’s owner, and pieces started falling into place. 

Amanda and Melvin started the small business loan process by going to their local bank. Amanda was optimistic about the financing portion. They planned to use their house as collateral, but they ran into a snag. The couple had not owned their home long enough, and there was not enough equity in it. They needed more money than the bank was willing to loan them. However, someone who worked at the bank had assisted customers who had worked with Communities Unlimited in the past. The bank recommended that Amanda and Melvin reach out to CU. They called Communities Unlimited and started visiting with Loan Officer Debra Williams. After beginning the paperwork with CU, Amanda and Melvin began training with Card My Yard.  

In December 2020, just a few weeks after attending the Veteran’s Day event, Amanda and Melvin were deep in the loan process with Communities Unlimited. They interviewed with Card My Yard and signed the franchise disclosure paperwork at the end of January 2021. 

Amanda shared that she and Melvin were so grateful that Communities Unlimited was there, and she is glad that they did not go with a traditional bank. Amanda said working with CU was easy, and the lending team was excellent. “They were all caps, bright colors, friendly, and offered reassurance and plenty of guidance along the way,” Amanda said, “They asked questions that made me think. They gave us a realistic viewpoint and guided us with making a plan during the whole process.”  

Communities Unlimited was able to offer the loan to the Khanga’s in part because of support from the Walton Family Foundation to create a revolving loan fund specifically for the underserved entrepreneurs we serve in Northwest Arkansas.

Amanda said that the big picture that she had in mind didn’t work out the way she expected. There were a lot of steps to tackle, including creating the LLC, getting insurance, gathering all of the paperwork, making phone calls, all while working full time. Amanda and Melvin got in mid-March 2021. 

They have already made so many clients happy. Amanda is so excited about what the future holds for their small business. Her belief that everything happens for a reason has already come full circle. Amanda shared one of her clients is a repeat customer, and clients are starting to refer her to their friends, family and colleagues. 

Amanda enjoys interacting with the clients and focusing on all the details of their stories. Amanda and Melvin are grateful for the loan they received from Communities Unlimited. They have already changed so many lives in a short time, including building wealth for their future. 

FY2021

NWTN Local Food Network – Serving As A Catalyst

Samantha Goyret was introduced to the natural food world at a very young age. As a child, Samantha’s family had a garden, and she enjoyed tasting all the veggies (mainly green beans) that she could find. As she grew older, she realized that her passion wasn’t just to snack from the family’s garden. It was much more. Her love for locally grown food became her lifestyle. 

Before moving to Tennessee, Samantha coordinated various food insecurity projects with the United Way throughout Upstate New York. She currently serves on the Tennessee Environmental Council Board of Directors. Samantha volunteers for an after-school program that teaches children how to grow, harvest and prepare food. She enjoys teaching the children how to cook and share with their family and friends. 

In 2013, after she moved to Northwest Tennessee, she started venturing out to local farmer’s markets. She soon discovered there were not as many local farmers in the area and no local food system. Samantha and a friend worked together with the City of Martin to create a local food guide. They were able to talk to a few farmers and discovered the need for small-scale farmers. 

In 2018, Samantha received her non-profit status and applied for a farm-to-school farming grant. Samantha got involved with a panel discussion to connect local farmers and their products with schools. Communities Unlimited Healthy Foods Coordinator Brenda Williams was part of this panel. Samantha and Brenda discovered that they shared the same passion. 

Brenda and Samantha worked together and discussed ideas. The day that everyone had planned to get together for a panel discussion just happened to be the day that COVID-19 shut down schools and in-person meetings. The meetings moved online. Although plans changed, the virtual meeting had good attendance and great discussions. Brenda led the group, and they brainstormed about solving fundamental issues and getting local food into schools and restaurants. 

Once Samantha started working with Brenda, Brenda told her that Communities Unlimited was a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) lender. CU was able to provide some financial relief from the effects of COVID-19. Samantha is so excited about all the connections she has gained just by getting involved with CU. 

Samantha’s stubbornness and determination led her down the path to start her non-profit, the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network (NWTNLFN). Whose mission is to bring about a thriving and equitable local food system accessible to all. 

The NWTNLFN is a small organization with a big heart and has three tiers of programming, which includes: 

  • Educating the farmer 
  • Educating the public 
  • Educating in between farm and school (K-12) 

Samantha wants every kid to have the opportunity to learn where food comes from and educate them about all the work that goes into farming. As they develop taste at a young age, she wants children to know the difference between a tomato from California compared to a tomato that was grown in their backyard. 

Samantha understands that not every child will grow up to be a farmer. Still, if they are given the knowledge and resources at a young age, maybe just one person can make an impact. 

Samantha loves what she does and hopes through the spread of education, more and more people will eat well and eat local. She wants to continue her journey for the long haul.