Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hartsville...South Carolina's newest All-America City winner

By Mary Catherine Farrell, assistant to the city manager, Hartsville

This has been a milestone year for the City of Hartsville. In June, a delegation of community members traveled many miles to Denver, CO to represent our city in its quest for the All-America City Award. This trip was the culmination of many late nights of practices and weeks of preparation: a ten-minute live presentation to a panel of judges, followed by ten minutes of questions and answers.
You may be thinking, “A 10 minute presentation? Easy!” Rest assured, figuring out how to creatively give voice to an entire city’s story in just 10 minutes is no simple task, especially because Hartsville has so much to share.

The road to Denver began in fall of 2015, when, at the urging of Councilman Johnny Andrews, city staff convened a host of key stakeholders to begin assessing our strengths and determine whether they aligned with the year’s focus, “Ensuring All Children Are Healthy and Supported to Succeed in School and Life.” Turns out Hartsville does a lot to help its children, both through direct services and through community-wide efforts to improve quality of life.

In March 2016, city staff used the feedback provided to develop an application that highlighted some of our exciting efforts: 1) Partners for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence (PULSE), 2) youth-centric programs funded by local Byerly Foundation (Cypress Adventures Program, Police Youth Academy, integrated playground equipment, Durant Children's Center, and Darlington County First Steps’ recent Diva Den initiative), and 3) the Historic Butler District Neighborhood Revitalization.

In April, we received the news that we had been selected as one of 20 finalists. We then had roughly two months to figure out how to bring our application to life, who would represent our community, and how we were going to get them and all of our stuff across the country. Our community truly rose to the occasion to support our delegates. Local businesses (Sonoco) and the Byerly and Coker foundations generously funded the trip.

Our delegates tirelessly worked through late night rehearsals to refine and perfect the presentation. So many individuals and organizations worked hard to get the group to Denver, but the MVPs were our youth delegates. Our talented, passionate, amazing teens were truly the driving force of our group both on and off stage. 
They won the hearts of other cities as they mixed and mingled with the other youth delegates, even leading impromptu music sessions throughout the conference. They then stole the show with their incredible performance during the presentation and heartfelt, honest answers during the Q&A period that followed.

Since 1949, the All-America City Award has recognized cities that demonstrate innovation, inclusiveness, impact, civic engagement and cross-sector collaboration in overcoming challenges. The problems Hartsville has faced are the same problems faced by thousands of cities across the country.

It is how our community has responded to these challenges that is so far from common. We are not perfect. We are still grappling with issues of racial tension, child death, poverty, and the list goes on. But we work hard to unite in the face of tragedy, rather than to allow these things to divide us further.
This recognition has special significance for us for two reasons: 1) Hartsville was the smallest of the 20 finalist cities (up against giants like Las Vegas and San Antonio), and 2) this marks the 20th anniversary of our first All-America City win in 1996. 

We are so grateful for the efforts and passion of our predecessors, and have learned much from the wisdom of those involved in community betterment efforts then.

Finally, as much as we loved meeting and learning from our larger counterparts, this experience was a wonderful reminder that you don’t have to a big city to do big things. We are Hartsville, and we truly are a small town with a BIG heart! 

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