Ask Jim Wilkirson what he does in his spare time and he’ll ask you “what is ‘spare time’”? The 48 year old Jackson native is the executive director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation (FRF) and the owner of Leslie James, Limited. Both are part time on paper but full time in deed. “During this parade planning, it’s been every waking minute” he says of his leadership in executing the Zippity Doo Dah® Weekend coming to Fondren next week. Surrounded by a team that includes Jill Conner Browne herself, Wilkirson has burned the midnight (and weekend) oil, more recently sewing pole banners on a Sunday afternoon. “I try and even it out to my 30 hour a week status the rest of the year”.
Wilkirson’s involvement in Fondren came full circle after being away for about six years. As a business owner in the neighborhood and board member for FRF some time ago, he was approached in 2010 to step in during a transitional period for the foundation. Wilkirson was considered a consultant until he dove in head first last year. His short FRF resume already includes the new Fondren Park (in the works when he arrived), a closer tie to Habitat for Humanity with the Phoenix Initiative and the addition of numerous events like May’s Renaissance Awards and the soon-to-come Summer Concert Series.
And it’s events that Wilkirson knows well. In his business as an interior and event planner for the last fifteen years, he has most recently assisted the Junior League with Mistletoe Marketplace galas and opening events for the Mississippi Children’s Museum. “I grew up here and had a mother who was very involved”, he says. “I see it as a way to give back – to make a small difference”. But Wilkirson has other motives. “If I can make a small difference and help or inspire someone else to make a small difference, then we accomplish something that’s bigger than any one or two people. It really is a team effort and that’s gratifying”. And he says that’s what he sees happening in Fondren.
Wilkirson says over the last couple of years, he has noticed Fondren pull together and FRF act as an umbrella of sorts. “There were so many organizations kind of doing their own thing and I think a cohesive effort was lacking”. But he is quick to note FRF is not ‘in charge’. “We are the facilitator for everyone else to accomplish their missions”. Wilkirson says FRF has helped to build a platform with events and with the neighborhood as a whole. And he tells us there’s a new push in the works: education, specifically in the arts and music. “We had that as kids and want to give it to the kids coming along now. That’s going to be a main thrust for us”. The family man with three children of his own wants to push reading and says the issues are what we as a community will find the most common ground on. “Events are nice and you’ve got to do that, but the kids are important. That’s what it’s all about”. zddcomm