During last month’s Lonoke Chamber of Commerce Annual Appreciation Banquet, incoming President Gary Elmore declared to the crowd, “Lonoke’s future is very bright. Let’s not lose our momentum. This is Lonoke’s time.” His words have continued to inspire me as I consider the importance of embracing the opportunities on the horizon in Lonoke.


For over a year now, there has been a sense in our community that the time is right to make some strategic changes and lay the groundwork for key advancements. Volunteer leaders and their neighbors have engaged with a focus that Lonoke has not seen in recent memory.


What compels a rural community of 4,287 to celebrate its strengths and discover its potential? What drives multiple generations and people from all neighborhoods in a town to join together month after month, returning to share fresh ideas in a transparent, respectful conversation?


Quite simply, I believe it is because Lonoke is a hopeful community.


Writer Seth Godin says, “Small communities of interest and connection are still the dominant force in our culture.” Lonoke is now poised to be such an example. In past editions of this column, we have discussed the question of how a community may address its history in such a way that environments of hope and healing may emerge from a redeemed fabric. Lonoke is a community that is courageously embracing that question with defiant optimism, and responding to the needs of our neighbors with a hand of partnership.


It is our investment in imagination which contributes to a hopeful outlook in Lonoke. Our collaborative spirit has generated a growing list of goals which have gained the support of the community at large. In collecting and introducing these goals, the work which we believe has been needed for so long will now have the kick start necessary for implementation.


Next week, on Thursday, May 18, Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be welcomed by the Lonoke community, during which time our story will be on display. The team of volunteer leaders who have led this collaborative conversation will celebrate the months of strategic planning work which has been undertaken. People from all over the region and state will be taking a look at Lonoke.


Lonoke has discovered that our potential for achievement does not lie in our ability to be the same as those around us. Our unique value proposition as a community comes in recognizing, and then celebrating, that which sets us apart and makes us unique. Chasing sameness will not generate innovation. Pursuing the generic will not establish an environment for the creative process.


Organizations like Lonoke Lions Club are getting their hands dirty again this season working the soil in the club’s Children’s Garden at Lonoke Library. This innovative and award-winning project has gained Lonoke statewide recognition. Led by Lion Bruce Edwards, the club gathers on Saturdays this spring and summer in the patch on the east side of the library to teach children how to plant and care for the vegetables and flowers. As we invest in the future of our children and students, I am convinced that they will, in turn, have powerful lessons to teach us about how to cultivate community.


I believe that Lonoke’s hopeful spirit comes from taking the long view, and looking at the big picture ahead. The small pieces of the vision taken individually will at times look like victories, and other times appear to be disappointments. The difference for Lonoke, is that we now have a framework to recognize the importance of timing. Now, when we step forward toward progress, we know we are not standing alone. At this crossroad in Lonoke’s history, we can be confident that our neighbors from every part of town are standing with us.


In five years, Lonoke will celebrate the 150th anniversary of our town’s founding. I am excited to think of the goals that we will achieve together over the next five years. We now have a vision for the future of our community. This new season represents the brightest future yet for Lonoke.


Ryan Biles is a local architect and 13-year resident of Lonoke who is raising three sons with his wife Natalie. You are invited to join the conversation using the hashtag #LookAtLonoke on social media!