With the chant of USA, USA, USA ringing in their ears, the 60 plus Fayetteville delegates to the All-America City Awards waited expectantly Friday night during the National Civic League’s All America City Awards banquet. They didn’t have long to wait.
Fayetteville, the Cinderella story of the annual convention, was the second city given the designation as an All America City, but it was first in the hearts of the people gathered in Kansas City, Kan.
“We were the second city to be announced as an All America City and the room just went crazy,” said Mayor Tony Chavonne, who accepted the award on behalf of the city and its citizens. “The spirit that was there was just amazing, and it had been all week. When we walked in to make our presentation, we got a standing ovation. We showed the world what it means to have a military community. That night at the awards, the soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Chorus started the chant of ‘USA, USA’ and the entire room was chanting right along with them.”
Chavonne said that while the conference was meant to be a celebration of the nation’s best and brightest cities, it really became a tribute to our nation’s military. “When I accepted the award, I thanked everyone for their strong support for us, our soldiers and all the military,” he said. “It became a lot bigger than about the individual cities and really became about our love of our nation and our support for our military. Everyone was on the same page on that love and support, and that’s the story we went there to tell,” he said.
Fayetteville’s bid for the All-America City designation began last December when a group of volunteers began holding meetings throughout the community to determine what stories and community developments needed to be highlighted in the competition. When the report, written by Sarah VanderClute, was complete, three issues made it to the top: Fayetteville’s new image as a city of History, Heroes and a Hometown Feeling, economic development and literacy as achieved through Reading Rocks. The initial application was filed in late February, in March, the city received notice that it was one of 26 cities named as finalist in the competition.
That’s when the hard work began. With the help of Moonlight Communications and the artistic direction of Bo Thorp, the Fayetteville delegation composed of civic leaders, community volunteers, educators, business leaders and the 82nd Airborne Chorus, began to work on their presentation to the judges at the conference.
Chavonne explained that each city has 10 minutes to tell their story to the judges and another 10 minutes to answer questions posed by the judges. In the weeks leading up to the competition, Thorp drilled the delegation and created a work of art that told the city’s story. The presentation included snippets from the organizers of Fayetteville Cares who talked about what an honor it is to “Watch over those who watch over us.” Children from the community and educators talked about strides in literacy achieved by community participation in the annual Reading Rocks Walk-a-Thon. Civic leaders talked about strides in economic development and the creation of “community” between the military posts and the city. Backed up by the Chorus, the presentation was as All-American as apple pie, and according to Chavonne, clearly established the city as “America’s Hometown.”
Throughout the week, the delegation had the opportunity to interact with other delegates and found that telling Fayetteville’s story was easy, but the delegates also had the opportunity to learn from each other.
Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine was excited to talk with the Fort Worth, Texas, chief of police.
“One of the key points he made was the way the city was dealing with their homeless issue,” said Bergamine. “The police department did a cost analysis of what dealing with the homeless population cost the city, and then they reached out to private businesses, the clergy and civic organizations to tackle the issue. I had a conversation with the chief about the success of their program and will follow-up with him now that I am back home to see how we can integrate this approach.”
For Jenny Beaver, a life-long resident of Fayetteville and community volunteer, participation in the conference was an affirmation of what she has always believed about her hometown.
“When we got up to give our presentation, we just blew them out of the water,” said Beaver. “When we walked in with the chorus, we got a standing ovation and the judges teared up. They could not have been more respectful or appreciative of our military. As each of the 10 cities were named All-America Cities, the love of the military that we have here in Fayetteville became the theme of the evening. It made me proud to be an American and proud to be a Fayettevillian. I can’t recall ever being prouder — it was just a moment.”
George Breece, who lead the contingent to a win in 2001, was excited to be on hand for the city’s third win. “A lot of people have been working very hard over the past few months and this designation shows that Fayetteville is truly America’s hometown,” said Breece. “We have the largest military base in America and our commitment to these men and women as a community means a great deal.”
On Friday, July 1 at 7:30 p.m., city leaders are inviting the whole community down to Festival Park to celebrate this honor. A presentation during a patriotic performance by the North Carolina Symphony, as well as apple pie, ice cream and fireworks seems to be a fitting way to celebrate History, Heroes and a Hometown Feeling for one of the nation’s newest All-America Cities.