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OPINION | STEPHANIE S. STREETT: Clinton Center's community commitment

by STEPHANIE S. STREETT | December 5, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

On an overcast, blustery day in December 2001, I was nine months pregnant with my first child when I joined community leaders, friends, Clinton campaign staff, former White House colleagues, and President Bill Clinton at an abandoned rail yard among a desolate stretch of dilapidated warehouses that had long before seen better days.

Gathered together, we broke ground on the site that would become the Clinton Presidential Center and Park.

But on Dec. 5 that year, it sure didn't look like much.

We held a groundbreaking ceremony in front of the historic 1899 Choctaw Route train station, which currently houses the Little Rock offices of the Clinton Foundation and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The railroad bridge was gated and had not seen a crossing in decades. And the River Market, located just a few blocks from our chosen site, was starting to breathe new life into downtown.

Although it was a blank canvas, there was a plan and, most importantly, a shared vision. We were building a bridge--one that would link the past to the future and connect people of all ages and walks of life.

President Clinton said he always knew he wanted to locate the Clinton Center in Arkansas because without the support of the people of our beloved home state, he would never have become president of the United States. He firmly believed the Clinton Center could be a place where diverse groups of people could come not only to learn about the history of their country and the world at the turn of the 20th century, but also to experience inspirational, educational, and cultural opportunities.

Additionally, he envisioned the Clinton Center serving as a catalyst for innovative social and economic development in our state's capital city.

The city of Little Rock offered approximately 30 acres of land along the banks of the Arkansas River. This symbolic setting was not far from the state Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, and the Old State House--scenes from so many indelible moments of then-Governor Clinton's time serving the people of Arkansas, his historic presidential campaign announcement, and election night victories.

Twenty years ago, with a few turns of dirt, President Clinton's vision began to take shape.

He has long believed that everybody matters, everybody has a story to tell, and we all work better when we work together. Those principles have guided his life in public service and today are the core values of our ongoing work at the Clinton Presidential Center and Clinton Foundation.

Since we opened the doors of the Center in 2004, we have welcomed 4.9 million people from across the country and around the world. More than 460,000 students and educators have toured the museum and engaged with us in interactive educational programming at no cost. More than 500 graduates from the Clinton School of Public Service have contributed nearly 440,000 hours of field service work while completing public service projects that have impacted communities throughout Arkansas and in 93 countries.

According to a 2014 impact evaluation analysis commissioned by the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Clinton Center's 10-year anniversary of its grand opening, investment in the downtown areas of Little Rock and North Little Rock totaled $3.3 billion in economic impact.

Our dedicated Clinton Center staff members continue to find new ways to make meaningful differences in our community. When the covid-19 pandemic required us to suspend operations last year, we pivoted and quickly joined forces with the City of Little Rock, World Central Kitchen, the Little Rock School District, and many other enthusiastic partners to feed our neighbors in need.

During this period, 720,000 meals were prepared by our culinary team in the Clinton Center kitchens, which were packaged and distributed by our staff, local volunteers, and food truck operators throughout central Arkansas. It was the kind of creative, collaborative, community-focused problem-solving President Clinton envisioned as we broke ground 20 years ago.

I am proud of what we have accomplished, together, but I know our best days are still ahead. As we reimagine our collective impact over the next 20 years, we begin this new chapter with a renewed commitment to "Putting People First" and will never "stop thinking about tomorrow" as we endeavor to inspire new generations of active citizens who believe in the power of service.

I'll share one of my favorite reflections from my dear friend, mentor, boss, and the 42nd president of the United States: "While the Clinton Presidential Center bears my name, it is as much yours as it is mine," because this building is dedicated to the story of what we, as a people, can do when we work together.

Stephanie S. Streett is the executive director of the Clinton Foundation.

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