Finding our place and investing in the future

By ROBERT LANGFORD,

There really is no place like home. This dictum rings true to most of us because our homes are in communities we care about deeply — communities we invest in to make them safe and healthy places for our children to grow, learn and develop. For more than half a century, Operation Shoestring’s home has been in the heart of Jackson on the Bailey Avenue corridor, a community filled with love, hope, grit and determination.

We’ve had the honor and privilege to work with young people and their parents; community leaders and their neighbors; business owners and their employees; and a host of others who are deeply concerned about children and families in this community to concentrate our investments for more than five decades. And in our 51st year, we’re proud to be on the cusp of opening the doors to one of our most significant investments in place: our new home that will serve as a hub for learning, sharing and growing for decades to come.

Our understanding of investing in place is aligned with one of the more common definitions, which is “the intentional, strategic, long-term engagement in a place” that involves “direct and ongoing relationships with multiple community actors, and community relationships as a primary vehicle of… operation.” Since we opened our doors in 1968, we’ve been intentional about working to ensure children and families in our community have access to high-quality educational opportunities, safe places to play, rewarding employment opportunities and access to affordable, quality healthcare and nutrition. These are among the intentions our founders outlined in a statement penned at the height of the civil rights movement, and these words animate our work today — in the same place where those words were written. Our approach to finding our place has also been strategic. We’ve taken our time to learn from and with members of the community and use what we learn to adapt our programming to meet the most pressing needs of children and families. Over the years, we’ve forged many strategic partnerships with other nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, businesses and donors to identify ways to increase and extend our impact. These relationships have enabled us to invest more thoughtfully and productively.

Relationships have always been and will continue to be our “primary vehicle of operation.” In fact, the relationships we’ve developed with young people, parents, volunteers and donors have been transformational for this community and life-changing for us as individuals. We’ve benefitted tremendously from the conversations and connections we’ve made, which has also helped make the community stronger. We sincerely believe these relationships are the most important factor in the success we’ve been able to achieve, which is why, more than anything else, we invest in fostering and strengthening these relationships every single day.

Every year, we do our best to create spaces that support the expansion of community and the exchange of new ideas. Our most widely known effort — our Conversation About Community — has been an opportunity for us to confront challenging issues head-on and learn from those who are exemplifying our values and commitment to children and families. This year, we’ll invite people from throughout our community and across the city to join us in a celebratory group conversation at the grand re-opening of our completely transformed building and campus on Thursday, October 17.

First, though, we hope you’ll join us for a musical celebration and party where we’ll listen to great music as we think about how we can more ardently express our love and commitment to our community. That concert and celebration will be at the Mississippi Museum of Art on Thursday, September 12. For more information on both of these events, visit operationshoestring.org.

Please join us as we work in our storied and resurgent community in the heart of Mississippi’s capital city to create a place where children and families can thrive. Because when we invest in the places we care about, we all rise together.

Robert Langford, executive director, Operation Shoestring.

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Cheering for Jackson Prep this year are (from left, back) Eliza Hollingsworth, Margaret Dye, Livi Mathews, Addy Katherine Allen, Rosemary McClintock, Kennedy Cleveland, Rachel Rutledge, Mari Lampt