About Alliance for Rural Impact
The Alliance for Rural Impact is a nonprofit organization serving rural and tribal communities across America. We are a collective partnership of technical assistance experts focused on community equity for rural and tribal regions. Our team is solutions-focused and adept in financial stabilization and growth, strategic planning and analysis, capacity building and long-term implementation of priorities. Our ultimate goal is to bring about positive changes that result in community prosperity.
The Alliance for Rural Impact is designed to provide all aspects of the community and economic development process utilizing unique and comprehensive delivery methodology. We identify a community’s foundational assets and drive progress until outcomes are achieved.
Andrew “Drew” Pack
Drew works for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis as Senior Community Affairs Specialist after serving as Regional Public Policy Specialist. His previous experience includes a role as graduate teaching assistant for International Economic Policy at Auburn University and an economic development internship with the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.
Drew is currently a board member of Main Street Arkansas, a member of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, and the Central Arkansas Representative for the Arkansas Community Development Society Board. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Mississippi and a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Public Policy from Auburn University.
Melanie Fourkiller, Treasurer
Melanie has served as Policy Analyst for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma since December, 2011, advising on Self-Governance and Health Policy. The Choctaw Nation, with over 230,000 citizens, covers 10 ½ counties in southeastern Oklahoma and operates a hospital as well as nine outpatient health centers. From 2006 to 2011, Melanie served as Secretary of State for the Cherokee Nation, a federally-recognized tribe of over 340,000 citizens, over 3,600 employees and an annual budget of approximately $600 million (at that time). The Secretary of State is a Constitutional position of the Nation, appointed by the Principal Chief and confirmed by the Council of the Cherokee Nation. Prior to service as Secretary of State, Melanie served in the capacities of Executive Officer (Chief of Staff), Group Leader of Government Resources and Self-Governance Administrator.
Melanie has twenty-five years of experience working in tribal government, including program development, administration and intertribal and federal negotiations. Previous to her work with the Cherokee Nation, she worked six years with the Kaw Nation, another federally-recognized tribal government in north-central Oklahoma. She has served on numerous intertribal workgroups and committees and consulted with several other Tribal governments regarding self-governance and federal/tribal policy.
Melanie is originally from Stilwell, Oklahoma, is Cherokee and Choctaw, and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Jordan is an attorney with the Little Rock law firm of Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard, PLLC. A native of Arkansas, Jordan earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Jordan studied law at Vermont Law School and received both his juris doctor and Master of Environmental Law & Policy degrees with high honors in 2012.Prior to joining Mitchell Williams, Jordan practiced law with Gill Ragon Owen, P.A., in Little Rock, and the Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jordan’s practice focuses on environmental, agricultural, energy, natural resource, and property law, with a particular emphasis onagricultural operations and local governments.Jordan also provides advice and counsel to landowners and local governments regarding land use, environmental mitigation/reclamation standards, federal land management, and complex regulatory matters.
Jim is a native of Pine Bluff, AR. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a B.S. in Business Administration, American Bankers Association Graduate Trust School, Cannon Trust School and College of Certified Financial Planning. Jim managed the Trust Department of Delta Trust & Bank from 2000 – 2014, until it was acquired by Simmons First National Bank.
Jamie R. Wright, Executive Director
From a very young age, I always knew what I wanted to do with my life. I had it all planned out. I would finish high school, go to college, earn a degree in nursing,and eventually to med school. In my mind, I would never do anything else. Well, never say never! Looking back over my unconventional path to economic and community development, I can plainly see God’s path and how it was – and continues to be – carved before me.
I started out working as an emergency medical technician in one of the most impactful and educational experiences of my life, thus far. There is no better place to see the depth of need, suffering, and lack of resources than in an emergency department. Tragedy does not discriminate. In this environment, I learned the need for compassion, empathy, and tough love. I learned that judging others is a waste of time. I learned that the more exhausting the day, the more patients we cared for, the happier I was. It also became clear to me that I was very good at coordinating, organizing, and managing chaotic environments.
After 11 years in the controlled chaos of the emergency and critical care departments, my career took a strange turn as I became a yearbook sales representative. This position took me across the United States and Canada and gave me my first glimpse of rural communities outside of my own.
My path then led to the offices of my hometown chamber of commerce. It is here where I knew almost instantly I had found my passion. This led to me having the honor of administering a US Department of Housing & Urban Development, US Department of Transportation, and Environmental Protection Agency Regional Sustainability Grant that was awarded to east Arkansas in 2012. This project, along with the previous 15 years, guided my unconventional path to consulting. My passion for tradition, pride-in-place, community, education, health, wellness, and faith run deep. It is my goal to create healthier communities by focusing on project development, communication, community engagement, outreach and volunteerism.
Jennifer G. Watkins,Director of Operations
Growing up in rural eastern Oregon, I envisioned a future life in a big city, a corporate job and a cool condo overlooking urban streetscapes. Living in a small town – let alone the one where I grew up – seemed unrealistic and unsatisfying. I was destined for bright lights and taxis on every corner.
Except I wasn’t. My first “real” job introduced me to my hometown in a way I didn’t know existed. Meeting people who were involved in changing and shaping its future gave me an appreciation for civic engagement. They taught me that making a difference in my small town would have lasting impacts I could never measure. The sparkle of the big city lost its appeal – I was hooked on rural development.
Since those early days, I’ve had twenty exciting, challenging and rewarding years of assisting small communities across the country in planning and enacting their desired futures. The work has taken me to a lot of places, including some of those shining cities I once dreamed of. Yet, when I meet the people who are working every day to make a difference in their small town – a difference that may only be realized by their children or grandchildren – I know I’m in the right place.
Lahoma Simmons, Director of Finance
As a third generation small business owner, growing up in a small town in Northeastern Oklahoma and spending my childhood literally on Main Street gave me a clear view of entrepreneurship at its finest. Around the time I went to high school and started facing decisions about my future, a large box store opened in my hometown. One by one, businesses I had grown up with started closing their doors – the “mom and pops” couldn’t compete with imported goods and volume sales. I clearly remember standing in the front of my mother’s shop right before it closed and thinking surely there was something that could be done. There wasn’t.
I spent the next several years going to college and raising a family. Eventually, I started working for a tribal government. This position gave me the ability to get reacquainted with the type of projects and people so familiar from my childhood, and put me right back in the middle of Main Street trying to figure things out.
My strength lies in my connection to the individuals that make up small communities and my desire to champion their cause at every opportunity. Still looking for answers and solutions, I firmly believe positive change is possible for small towns. Strong planning followed by even stronger implementation and an expert support system can absolutely build the solid foundation of success for rural communities.
Rural Impact believes in getting things done. Achievement is the cornerstone of all we do. Strategic planning is only useful if it results in successful implementation. Capacity building can only be sustained with a steady flow of important projects. Achievement – for Rural Impact – goes beyond just crossing tasks off of a list. It’s the idea of a community working together to accomplish more than they could individually and with a greater purpose in mind.
For the purposes of Rural Impact, a community is defined as an organization, town, city, county, tribe or region collaborating to improve the economic conditions and overall quality of life of its citizens. Yet, there is also an intangible quality to a community that defines it more than a geographic boundary. Shared backgrounds, cultures and values create a common sense of purpose among residents and leaders. Channeling that purpose toward a collective vision is the aim of Rural Impact.
Transformative change takes hard work, dedication and commitment. In order to engage people over the long term, inspiration must be built into the project at every step. The Rural Impact methods empower citizens to set and achieve goals that are important – and inspirational – to them.
Our team of professionals has a proven track record of accomplishment and accountability. By working closely with each community, we build a strong foundation of trust through open discussions and fulfillment of our promises. Each of the communities we work with becomes our home – and we insist upon loyalty, honesty and ethical behavior from all members of our team.
At Rural Impact, we put the needs of our clients first. Our role is to guide the community and economic development process, providing clients not only with outstanding results, but also with an exceptional experience from beginning to end. Demonstrating a positive attitude and commitment to quality at all times creates an immeasurable positive impact on the communities we serve.
No one can achieve true success alone. Building the right team is important for any organization to succeed. Our team has been established based upon the shared values of Achievement, Community, Inspiration, Integrity and Professionalism. From our board of directors, to our core group of founding partners, to our collaborating organizations, we are committed to our common goals, an environment of open communication, and continuous support for our clients and each other.