- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - After spending some time in Fayetteville, Amber Grady came back to Walnut Ridge, the site of her alma mater, Williams Baptist College, and learned how meaningful small-town life can be.

“I can really appreciate what the smaller community kind of offers, in comparison with an area that’s a little larger,” Grady, 36, said.

The Jonesboro Sun (https://bit.ly/2r0ws7H ) reports that Grady has served as WBC’s dean of students for the past two years and also serves on the city’s police committee. She is one of several residents under 50 years old living and making a difference in small towns like Walnut Ridge. Grady said while the town may be small, there’s still plenty of ways young adults can get involved.

“No matter where you’re from, whether you grew up in the area or not, there’s a way for you to get involved and become connected,” Grady said. “I still consider myself to be new to the community and getting to know everyone.”

Garrett Barnes, a 29-year-old alderman in Bono, said he enjoys living in a small town, which he said is a great place to raise a family and is the perfect bedroom community to Jonesboro.

“You pass someone on a two-way, small street and they wave, and you may not even know them, but they’re just friendly, you know?” Barnes said. “You see them at the gas station, they talk to you; you reconnect. There’s definitely a strong community bind and bond in small towns with individuals.”

Even as Jonesboro and other large cities continue to grow each year, many young people still choose to live in small towns, with some, like Grady and Barnes, getting involved in community leadership.

Many city councils and quorum courts across Northeast Arkansas are made up of mostly older residents. Yet, there is a place for young leaders willing to step up, and the fresh ideas they often bring with them can lead to positive change, Trumann Mayor Barbara Lewallen said.

Trumann’s Lions Club hosts “Senior Night” for the city’s graduating seniors every year, Lewallen said. Guided by younger leadership, the club recently changed the way graduates were honored, and were met with great success.

“It got to where we felt like that maybe the kids, the graduates that you’re trying to honor, weren’t as interested in attending, so the younger people said, ‘Why don’t we change that up? Let’s do a hamburger (and) hot dog cookout, and let’s do it during school hours,’” Lewallen said. “And it turned out to be really, really successful, much better than doing the old standard banquet.”

Lewallen said she’s seen more community involvement from the younger generation, especially in the sports department as well as community service. Younger people, she said, have “a lot to contribute.”

“I think they just bring more energy, and also, they’re usually more technology oriented and keeping up with the trends,” Lewallen said. “… When you’re older, you’re not necessarily keeping up with all the trends.”

Lions Club President Scott Richards, 40, a Trumann native, said he enjoys giving back to his hometown.

“I enjoy working with the community I grew up in,” Richards said.

Sometimes, Richards said, it can be hard for young people to feel like they fit in or can get involved in organizations and communities where older generations tend to run everything. However, when young people do get involved, Richards said it can bring needed energy to a community.

“When you’re younger, you’re fresh and you’re a little more excited about the work you’re doing,” Richards said.

Barnes said his drive to lead started at Westside High School, where he learned from “amazing” student council sponsors. Now in his second term on the city council, Barnes said young leaders like him can often buck common trends and tradition in favor of new and creative ideas.

“A lot of young individuals … the adage of ‘This is the way things have always been done’ doesn’t really resonate with them,” Barnes said. “… A younger voice, a younger person, they don’t have the allegiances to the way things have always been done as much as individuals who have been part of that system and help created that system of doing things.”

Barnes said there is often an unfair dismissal of younger voices under the guise of their “inexperience,” and said young people have a hard time being recognized as having important input.

“They’re oftentimes just discredited or shoveled off as being inexperienced or not knowing what they’re talking about … Their ideas are too big, or they’re not feasible,” Barnes said. “Where in most cases, it may very well be feasible, it may be the right thing.”

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp said while his city doesn’t have a plethora of younger leaders, there are some, like Grady, who are involved in certain areas. He said he hopes more young people get involved in city government, especially in committees and commissions.

“You look at most of the involvement Walnut Ridge has had, they’re 50 years and older,” Snapp said. “You need that balance, but you need those young ideas. … To attract a new generation, we have to have their input.”

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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