The phone call came around lunchtime: “Have you seen the blog?” I naturally knew to which blog my friend was referring — we both check the Arkansas Blog regularly throughout the day — but I couldn't recall seeing a story that morning of particular interest. “Networking behind the scenes,” the headline read. What followed was a tale of leaked private e-mails, perceived political biases of some board members and a big black eye for the Arkansas Young Professionals Network.
Today, nearly six months later, AYPN has a newly elected board of directors — an energetic, fresh-faced, diverse team ready to tackle the obstacles that lie ahead. Aside from me, none of the new officers has served on the board before, though many have been active committee members. We're an optimistic bunch, hoping that as we move forward, those who have been critical of the organization will remember that AYPN does not consist of just a few former board members, but rather a group of 400 young professionals living and working throughout Greater Little Rock.
AYPN is a praiseworthy organization. Our mission can be summed up with one word: retention. Whether through social, educational and philanthropic events, or by providing services like free Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the River Market area, we strive to create an environment where young professionals feel they have found a home where they can be involved with and impact the community in a positive, meaningful way.
Perhaps AYPN's most laudable accomplishment was the implementation of the free Wi-Fi in the River Market district. Currently, the coverage stretches along Clinton Avenue from the Peabody Hotel to the First Security Center. It also covers the Riverfront Park. It was the vision of last year's board of directors to expand our coverage. Suggestions have included continuing the broadcast signal along Clinton Avenue to the Clinton Library grounds. Another desire is to stretch the Wi-Fi signal south a few blocks to cover parts of Third and Fourth Streets, particularly the ever-growing residential area containing the 300 Third condos, Rock Street Lofts and the new River Market Tower.
A third option for wireless expansion is MacArthur Park, soon to undergo a major upgrade through the efforts of the Downtown Partnership, the MacArthur Park Group, and the city of Little Rock. The park upgrade also ties in to another program currently in the works. The plan is to host a forum with the Parks and Recreation Department that will highlight the continuing effort being made to make Little Rock a “city in a park,” including the continuing work on the River Trail, Riverfront Park, MacArthur Park, the Presidential Park wetlands project and War Memorial Park.
If there is a silver lining to the events of the past few months, it is that the new board has been given the opportunity to examine what changes need to be made within the organization. Fresh perspectives will generate fresh ideas as we reach out to grow our membership in as many directions as possible. The mission of the organization remains the same, and so long as we work whole-heartedly towards fulfilling that mission, AYPN will remain a valuable partner to the professional community, as well as to Greater Little Rock.
Buckley O'Mell, who works in commercial real estate brokerage for Flake and Kelley Commercial of Little Rock, is the newly elected president of the Arkansas Young Professionals Network. Max Brantley is on vacation.