Hello SLP blog aficionados, 

Yesterday was our “Bonnet Springs Day.” We met at the Florida Children’s Museum for a day highlighted by presentations from Bill Tinsley, Sam Davidson, a local favorites panel, and delicious food catered by local staples Black & Brew and Frescos.  

We kicked our day off with the aforementioned Black & Brew breakfast, as well as a presentation on the history of Bonnet Springs by one of its “founding fathers,” Bill Tinsley. He discussed the development of the park and what it’s meant for the Lakeland community. I was fascinated by his description of the process of restoring the land from its brownfield designation and the care that went into creating a sustainable and clean park. Bill emphasized the importance and necessity of teamwork and leadership to make a project of this scale a reality  

As we near the one-year anniversary of BSP, and look towards the future, Bill emphasized the involvement of its board. It’s full of key community leaders who are dedicated to making this park something that can impact the local area, as well as the larger Central Florida region, for generations to come.  

After Bill’s presentation, we jumped on the BSP trams for a guided tour of the park and the learning spaces that have been built within. The park is full of playgrounds for children of all abilities, but what sets BSP apart is just how seamlessly they’ve been integrated with the environment. The tour also served as an opportunity to see firsthand just how involved the community was in developing the park. Everything from the family playground to the tasting garden has the name of a family or local company that helped support the funding of the park. It truly was a community effort.  

Once we made our way back to our home base for the day, the Lakeland Economic Development Council’s Katie Decker gave a short presentation on the Downtown West area. After hearing Bill speak about the park as a catalyst for development and community growth, Katie’s Google Maps-aided visual presentation connected some economic development dots in my head. It became apparent not only how that area of downtown will change in the next five to ten years, but how it all works synergistically. 

The last presentation of the morning was a local favorites panel where we heard from Jon Bucklew from The Joinery, Julie Townsend from the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, and Chris McArthur from Black & Brew. They spoke on the benefits and challenges facing businesspeople in the Downtown area, the importance of community, exactly how Lakeland has changed in the last 15 years, as well as what’s in store for the future. As a part of the Q+A portion of the panel, each speaker was asked if I wanted to start a business downtown, what advice would you give. 


  • Understand the downtown organism and learn about the community 


  • Have a close personal community you can communicate honestly with 
  • Plug yourself in and network for business. You never know who might be able to help 
  • Focus on personal and financial stability.  
  • Start before you’re ready 


  • You don’t have to do everything alone 
  • Tap into the wisdom of the community 
  • Understand your “why” 

After the panel wrapped up, we broke for lunch and a short break before our afternoon session with community leadership speaker Sam Davidson.  

Sam believes that the height of his success is directly related to the depth of his community. He began by defining community. Community has safety, growth and meaning, but he reminded us that safety is not for the leader of the community to decide. Growth within a community means that people can learn from each other, hear new perspectives, and improve together. Finally, meaning defines relationships within the community and gives purpose to members of it. 

After the participants defined community, they discussed the three surefire ways to build community: snack, sweat, and serve. Experiencing food, exercise, and community service as a group has been proven to build relationships stronger and quicker. Sam then set out some metrics for measuring community growth: stories, relationships, and impact. He then begged the questions: How then do we decide which communities are worth our time? What communities can we contribute to with our personal stories? 

He answered these questions with a simple formula: passion + talent + needs = personal stories. Sam put the participants to work defining their “stories” and sharing them with the rest of the group. This culminated in an activity where groups of participants were challenged to fill in the blank. Lakeland would be better if _______. They answered that question and then used their group’s passions and talents to develop a program to address the need they identified. Who knows, maybe the ideas born this Wednesday will make their way into our community.   

After three hours of building community from the ground up, the participants tried to wrap their day up overlooking the gorgeous Bonnet Springs Park from the rooftop bar, but Mother Nature had other plans. As lightning approached the area, it became obvious that an outdoor lounge space was not the safest place to weather one of Florida’s famous afternoon thunderstorms, and everybody headed home.  

Next week I’ll be recapping SLP’s “volunteerism” day, where we learn all about opportunities to serve in the community, but until then, have a great week! 



SLP 2023 Intern