Written by Arkansas Real Estate
As the holidays near, and we begin to wrap up 2013, it seemed fitting that this year we close our Kibitz chat blog series with highlighting a family and foundation that have been the backbone of success, vitality, and growth in our community. We were blessed for the opportunity to chat with Rob Brothers, Director, Home Region Focus Area for the Walton Family Foundation. Thank you, Rob and team, for the many ways you support Northwest Arkansas and beyond!
The Walton Family Foundation has made great strides locally and nationally. Can you tell us about what your funding scope includes and what your priorities for funding have been both locally and nationally?
When Sam and Helen Walton launched their modest retail business in 1962, one of their goals was to increase opportunity and improve the lives of others along the way. This guiding principle has played a pivotal role in the phenomenal growth of their small enterprise into a global retail leader. This principle also drives the philanthropic mission of the Walton Family Foundation.
Today the foundation is more focused than ever on sustaining the Walton’s timeless small-town values and deep commitment to making life better for individuals and communities alike. By working with grantees and collaborating with other philanthropic organizations, the foundation is dedicated to making a positive difference in three focus areas:
During 2012, the foundation invested $432 million in domestic and international projects that addressed significant social and environmental issues, and sought to create exciting new opportunities. The foundation continues to implement and expand grant making to fund a positive difference in many diverse communities and in the lives of the people who call them home.
What are some of the most notable projects that the Walton Family Foundation has been a part of in Northwest Arkansas?
There have been so many! But, if I had to put a few into a category, I would say the foundation has had significant impact on the arts in Northwest Arkansas. We believe a key component to a good quality of life is access to visual and performance arts. We especially care about making that access available to everyone. Some of the foundation’s arts-related grantees include Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Walton Arts Center, TheatreSquared, Rogers Little Theater, Symphony of Northwest Arkansas and Arts Center of the Ozarks.
The Razorback Regional Greenway is a key Northwest Arkansas project for the foundation right now. The entire 36-mile path will be complete next year, but the concept of a regional greenway has been a goal of the foundation, regional planners, cities, and residents of Northwest Arkansas for more than two decades.
In 2000, a regional planning process began which included regional trails as a key component. A task force was formed, led by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, and public input was gathered.
Admittedly, it was tough in the beginning for everyone to come together with a common vision and understand the benefits of a paved regional trail system. But before long, communities saw that a regional trail could be a connector for our area on many levels.
The foundation focuses on enhancing the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas and the greenway project was determined to be a good fit for us. So, in 2009, the foundation pledged up to $15 million, subject to a 1:1 match, to construct the regional trail system. In addition, the foundation provided a grant to hire a planning and design team that had experience with world-class trails. A big boost came in 2010, when the project was awarded a $15 million federal TIGERII grant.
When completed in 2014, the greenway will connect six downtown areas, three major hospitals, 23 schools, the University of Arkansas campus, several corporate headquarters, shopping areas, historic sites, parks and neighborhoods. It will promote active lifestyles, be an alternative transportation route, and provide opportunities for businesses to develop.
The greenway is really a “spine” for a much larger regional trail system. Individual cities have already constructed many miles of trails that connect to the greenway and more are planned. The greenway project is an excellent example of how public-private partnerships can serve as catalysts to community development.
On a personal note, I ride my bicycle (on good weather days) on a section of the greenway from Rogers to my office in Bentonville. So, please say hello if you see me on the trail!
For even more information on the greenway, watch our video:
Can you tell us a little about the history of the foundation? How did it get started and how it has evolved over the years?
The Walton Family Foundation was established by Walmart founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen in 1987. Their strong belief in innovation, individual empowerment, and creating opportunity still drives the philanthropic mission of the foundation. The foundation is governed today by the descendants of Sam and Helen Walton and operates with the belief that a private family foundation can uniquely spark innovation and creativity in addressing social needs by investing to make a lasting difference.
By the way, while there are unmistakable similarities when it comes to Walmart founders and a vision of a better life for individuals and communities, the Walton Family Foundation exists independently of the Walmart Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Walmart.
The foundation’s website has much more about the legacy of Sam and Helen Walton and their guiding principles.
Can you tell us about the return on investment your projects are making?
We consider each grant an investment in the achievement of a desired goal. Whether it is increasing the number of quality school options available to a family in an urban school district or increasing water flow in a Colorado River tributary, every dollar invested in projects and organizations has the intent of achieving results.
The foundation measures progress toward goals and has established an evaluation process that provides useful information to staff and board members about which organizations are effective, what strategies are working and whether the foundation’s overall mission is being achieved.