Meet Big Park Council Representative Joanna Horton McPherson
Who do you represent on Big Park Council and what kind of member is it: RAM (Residential), BOA (Business Owner) or EIM Educational Institution)? Briefly describe its character or anything that makes it unique.
I am the founder of the new school in the Village of Oak Creek, Sedona Village Learning Center. We’re a non-profit program offering high-quality education regardless of income. While private, we provide scholarships for half our families. Our program is run by two wonderful staff including our director, Shara Coughlin, and are currently hiring for a third. One unique aspect is our community partnerships, including volunteers coming in to lead lessons or share about their work. Another is our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. We have our assistant now teaching Spanish immersion lessons daily, for example.
Current/Past Officers and Committee/Project Chairs, describe your title and responsibilities. What have been your most interesting challenges and successes with the Council?
I am new to the BPRCC. I have been part of a group planning the Educational aspect of the Community Plan. They’ve been putting together a wonderful vision of a community center with artist studios, library, dog park, school programs and a meeting house. I’m thrilled to see BPRCC spend more time focusing on the ideas, activities, events and visions that bring us together.
Do you work full time, part time, retired or retired part time?
For someone who doesn’t have a job, I sure am busy. I serve on the Verde Valley School board, chair another non-profit and serve on an arts education committee at my alma mater. I volunteer for my job as the preschool founder and board chair. My primary focus, however, is being with my babies who are 9 months old and almost 3. I’m extremely fortunate that I get to be home with them to be present for and part of their growth.
How many years have you lived in the Big Park/Village of Oak Creek area and from where did you come? What do you like best and least about living here?
I came to Verde Valley in 2014 to work at Verde Valley School as the Dean of Students, met my husband who owned the Collective at the time, and left for a brief couple of years to Costa Rica before coming here once again in early 2019. I love the sense of community in the VOC, and the strength of our identity AS a community. Having lived in many places before this chapter of my life, (South Dakota on a Natve American reservation, Louisiana, New York, Maine - where I grew up, Florida, etc.).
I miss the diversity in terms of ethnic, racial, age and socioeconomics in the population here. The BPRCC has an ability to be major influencers in intentionally seeking to bring more diverse representation here by putting various ideas, efforts and opportunities in place. Housing in particular, is an area we can make change. By creating more affordable housing for teachers, laborers and tourism staff for example, will bring so much vibrance and diversity to our community.
What are your favorite pastimes, interests and/or community involvements?
I am a foodie. I love vegan and natural foods the most, and cook a lot - especially during the pandemic. In my prior life as a stage and film actor and acting coach I loved the power of storytelling. My friend, Camilla Ross, is masterful at bringing this element to our community with her theatre company and her new space, Sedona Arts Academy. I continue to look for new ways to learn and express my creative spirit. My friend, Bev Copen, is a photographer and writer who inspires me with her interest in being a lifelong learner of people and culture.
In terms of my involvement here, getting the Big Park school building to be used for community and educational use is a goal of mine. I dream of incorporating our town as Sedona Village and seeing our Town Hall on that campus, along with a little cafe, dog park, library, playground, soccer field, and the wonderful community garden that’s already in development.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments and/or one of your most memorable experiences?
I am proud of living as much as possible without regret. I tell the people I love that I love them because one never knows how much time we have together.
What has been your favorite or most valued work experience? Has the Council provided an opportunity for you to use your expertise?
Starting my own businesses over the years has shown me the value of learning from my missteps, and how to keep striving. It’s truly incredible what one can accomplish if she’s committed to her vision. I’ve been lucky to find mentors wherever I go who have been instrumental as guides on my path. In terms of the Council’s role, this gathering of leaders has the capacity to bring forth peoples’ visions for the future of this place.
I feel supported in my efforts, having been invited to share the activity of our school in a meeting recently. It has taken a village to make the school a reality - something I could never have done alone. In fact, I heard someone at the park walking her dog say to another, “it takes a village!” I thought, “we should have this be our VOC slogan.”
I can see t-shirts and bumper stickers. I hope to see someone make this our slogan one day.
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