Art instructor Natalie Ray with Boyd Elementary students. The program is funded by Fondren Renaissance.

January 24, 2013

Are you a runner? Maybe you enjoy a live symphonic concert or appreciate art. It may be that your child has had art lessons from a veteran instructor. If you’ve experienced these wonderful activities in Fondren, chances are, you’ve done so for free. How? Meet Fondren Renaissance.

With the goal of revitalizing a neighborhood, Fondren Renaissance Foundation was officially formed on March 1, 2002, when two previous neighborhood organizations, functioning in the Fondren community as separate but partnering entities, agreed to merge their operations and unite for the betterment of the district. These previous organizations had served the Fondren area since 1996.

A multi-year, generous financial commitment from St. Dominic Health Services acted as seed money to bring people and resources into place. But today, Fondren Renaissance is responsible for themselves through the generosity of donors and supporters.

Executive Director Jim Wilkirson says he doesn’t think the general public understands the full scope and detail of their work. “When you listen to the full Mississippi Symphony on the lawn at The Cedars every fall and don’t pay a ticket price, it’s not because the symphony came and played just for fun,” he explains. “We work day and night to secure sponsors for those events so that you can bring your family and invite friends and not worry about a cost.”

From art openings four times a year and a new three-month-long summer concert series to annual events like Fondren Unwrapped and Arts, Eats & Beats, Fondren Renaissance has never charged a ticket price. Just added is the monthly fondRUNâ„¢ Pub Run during Fondren After 5 and, soon to enter its third year, Fondren’s Zippity Doo Dah® Weekend.

Add to that countless hours behind the scenes working with partners like St. Dominic’s and Habitat For Humanity Metro Jackson to help neighbors make facade repairs on their homes through the Phoenix Initiative. And 2011’s Fondren Park project was not without immense effort: Fondren Renaissance lead the charge for over five years with U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Senator Thad Cochran’s office and the City of Jackson to bring together a half million dollar project.

Wilkirson says that as Fondren Renaissance enters its eleventh year, the neighborhood demands more attention to help keep pace with the rapid growth and popularity it has experienced. “We’re currently working with the engineering firm of Neel Schaffer along with the City to bring a $2,000,000 enhancement grant to fruition,” Wilkirson says. If that’s not enough on their plate, Fondren Renaissance is also partnering with LeFleur East Neighborhood Association, Greater Belhaven, MDOT and Hinds County to bring about Interstate interchange landscaping and way-finding signage to help better identify the neighborhoods that make up Jackson’s core. “It’s a lot of behind the scenes that no one ever knows about to make it all work,” Wilkirson tells us.

Fondren Renaissance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and is fully supported by contributions from Fondren residents, businesses, corporate donors and other friends interested in the community. All donations to the Foundation are 100% tax deductible. There are no membership dues required to participate in activities or to benefit from the projects, programs and good works of the organization. “Our goal,” Wilkirson says, “is to support and promote the great merchants, restaurants, business entities and neighbors of Fondren. At the end of the day, we’re all about our people and our people make us who we are.”