Lead For America, Heartland Forward Place Two American Connection Corps Fellows in Arkansas


Working with the City of Little Rock and the Southwest Arkansas Planning & Development District, two fellows will undertake transformational projects related to broadband connectivity and digital inclusion in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (JULY 21, 2021) – Lead For America (LFA) and Heartland Forward today announced the placement of two American Connection Corps (ACC) Fellows in Arkansas. Working with the City of Little Rock and the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District, these fellows will work to increase broadband access and digital literacy and contribute to critical community development initiatives in Magnolia and Little Rock. The Arkansas Fellows are part of the ACC inaugural class that includes 50 individuals to serve as community leaders across the country.

The American Connection Corps is a new, innovative fellowship program focused on bridging the digital divide, led by Land O’Lakes, Inc. and LFA with funding and support from Heartland Forward for the efforts in Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee. As part of the national network, ACC Fellows will have access to premiere national training on community organizing, broadband and digital inclusion, and a network of LFA leaders nationwide.

“Lead For America is on a mission to build a generation of civic leaders dedicated to tackling the toughest challenges facing the communities they call home—and we are excited to bring our Hometown Fellowship model to communities across Arkansas, starting with Little Rock and Magnolia this year,” said Joe Nail, CEO and co-founder of Lead For America. “The coronavirus pandemic underscored the importance of both leadership, and of closing the digital divide in rural and urban communities across America. We are honored to partner with Land O’Lakes, Heartland Forward and the other American Connection Corps partners in placing 50 dynamic, and locally rooted leaders in the communities and places that helped raise them. We are committed to ensuring this initiative becomes a pathway home for outstanding Arkansans for many years to come.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how critical digital access is in our day-to-day lives, with people depending on the internet for school, work, healthcare and more,” said Angie Cooper, chief program officer for Heartland Forward. “Heartland Forward is thrilled to be working with Lead For America and our local partners to place two fellows in our home state of Arkansas.  We’re optimistic about the progress they’ll make in closing the digital divide in the communities they serve and the advocates they’ll become to help scale success elsewhere.”

“I firmly believe there is a role for leaders at every level to be actively engaged in bridging the access gap to critical digital infrastructure and leveraging economic opportunities for the very communities they grew up in,” said Tina May, Land O’Lakes, Inc. vice president for Rural Services. “And, this is just the beginning – it is our intention that this program will both grow to make an immediate and significant impact and also prove to legislators at the state and federal level that there is a scalable, successful model for community development, which can ensure all Americans have access to this fundamental infrastructure.”

ACC Fellows will serve their home communities in locations nationwide through high-impact, high-urgency two-year placements focused on closing the digital divide and building the next generation of leaders. They will tackle tough challenges that stand in the way of internet access in the communities they serve, strengthen the local civic infrastructure and join a new generation of transformational community leaders. Fellows will also participate in LFA’s national Changemaker Summit, attend quarterly retreats, receive 1:1 expert mentorship, and join a growing community of local leaders. 

The inaugural ACC hosts and fellows in Arkansas are:

  • City of Little Rock Mayor’s Office, Little Rock
  • Maddie Long: Maddie is from Little Rock and is currently completing her master’s degree with the Indigenous Studies Program at the University of Kansas, and has previously completed volunteer work and led community funded projects with a focus on Indigenous affairs. In her role with the Little Rock Mayor’s office, she will help address residents’ inability to cover the cost of connectivity to help achieve permanent digital equity.
  • Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District, Magnolia
  • Hosea Born: Hosea is a middle school teacher in Hope, Arkansas through the Arkansas Teacher Corps, a volunteer firefighter, and completed his Masters in Educational Leadership at Henderson State University in 2020. In his work with the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District, he will serve 12 counties in Southwest Arkansas to connect them with broadband and ensure long-term economic growth in the region.

“We know that access to broadband is as crucial as the availability of power and water for life in 21st century America,” said City of Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. “Little Rock is a City where we have the good fortune of widespread availability of broadband services but have many of our residents unable to afford those services on a consistent basis. Those residents who are being left behind also often lack access to appropriate devices and digital literacy skills. We are thrilled that, through this collaborative effort, we will be able to host a Digital Equity Coordinator in the Mayor’s Office to focus her energies on this crucial goal for our City.”

“Southwest Arkansas Planning & Development District believes in creating thriving and connected rural communities by helping communities in our twelve-county service area with federal, state, and local resources for broadband connectivity.  Our partnership with the American Connection Corps builds on that,” said executive director Renee Dycus. “We are thrilled to have Hosea Born join our team as a Fellow to help bridge the digital divide here in Southwest Arkansas.”

The ACC is led in conjunction with LFA and funded through the support of 20 additional partner organizations, including: Land O’Lakes, Heartland Forward, CoBank, Tractor Supply Company, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Ariel Investments, Scoular, CHS, Zoetis, Tillamook, Accenture, University of Minnesota, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Midwest Dairy, Purdue University, Partners for Education, CentraCare, Common Sense Media and University of Illinois Extension.

Heartland Forward’s participation in the ACC is part of its three-year Connecting the Heartland initiative focused on ensuring families and businesses across America’s heartland have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service. They are partnering with LFA to support Fellows in Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee.

For general information on the ACC, please visit: https://www.lead4america.org/american-connection-corps

About Lead For America

Lead For America (LFA) is a national nonprofit that helps outstanding young people become civic leaders. LFA seeks to direct homegrown talent where it’s needed most — in towns and counties where challenges outpace resources available — often in rural and under-resourced communities. Through their flagship two-year paid Fellows program, LFA has funded and placed over 100 Fellows in over 80 communities and 30 states in newly created positions in their home communities since 2019, and plan to have 100 additional Fellows starting in 2021. Combined, LFA Fellows have leveraged more than $17 million for their communities and impacted the lives of more than 13.5 million people. Lead For America’s national headquarters is located in Dodge City, Kansas.

About Heartland Forward:

Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, 501c3 organization whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research and programs to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. To learn more, visit https://heartlandforward.org/.

About Land O’Lakes, Inc. 
Land O’Lakes, Inc., one of America’s premier agribusiness and food companies, is a member-owned cooperative with industry-leading operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. With 2020 annual sales of $14 billion, Land O’Lakes is one of the nation’s largest cooperatives, ranking 219 on the Fortune 500. Building on a legacy of more than 99 years of operation, Land O’Lakes today operates some of the most respected brands in agribusiness and food production including Land O’Lakes Dairy Foods, Purina Animal Nutrition, WinField United and Truterra. The company does business in all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Land O’Lakes, Inc. corporate headquarters are located in Arden Hills, Minnesota.


Media Contacts:

Heartland Forward: Lara Sisselman

Lead for America: Matthew Miller

Land O’Lakes, Inc.: Abbey Shilling