By James Simpson, SLP Intern

Welcome back to the SLP blog!  

This week was our “Bonnet Springs Day,” and before we got started with our tour, we enjoyed breakfast and coffee catered by Black & Brew, another Lakeland staple.  

We started our morning with a tour of the Florida Children’s Museum and the Hollis Family Welcome Center. The museum’s summer camp program was in full swing, so we got to see the kids’ use of the facility firsthand and, let me tell you, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. we did not stop hearing cheering and playful shrieking outside of our event space. After a brief chat with Bonnet Springs Park CEO, Josh Henderson, we jumped on the BSP trams for a guided tour of the park and the learning spaces that have been integrated within.  

When our tour wrapped up, we heard a development update from the LEDC’s Katie Decker. She touched on the importance of BSP as a catalyst for redevelopment around Lake Wire.   

Next, Bill Tinsley, founding CEO of the park, did a deep dive into the development history of the park and what it’s meant for Lakeland. 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. Tinsley highlighted the community support of the park and shared one story about a man from Hernando County that drives to Lakeland every week to visit Bonnet Springs with his wife and daughter. It was just another reminder of what this park has meant for the City of Lakeland and the entire region. 

After our history lesson, we heard from City Commissioner Chad McLeod about his experience overcoming adversity. He emphasized that we move through stages of our lives, and that they can be interrupted in an instant. For McLeod, that was by a cancer diagnosis. At a time when he felt like he should be “climbing the ladder,” he was battling for survival. He reminded us that we all have influence, no matter where we are, and how we use that influence is what defines us. He called on the participants to be engaged leaders, and they defined that for themselves. Engaged leaders invest in new talent, are open and accessible, and listen to understand. McLeod also spoke about his experience as a city commissioner, and what that role has taught him as a member, and leader, of the Lakeland community.   

After McLeod’s talk on leadership and overcoming adversity, we broke for lunch and a short break before our afternoon session with community leadership speaker Sam Davidson.   

Davidson 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. Food, exercise, and community service has been proven to build relationships stronger and quicker. Davidson 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. Davidson 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 wrapped their day up overlooking the gorgeous Bonnet Springs Park from the rooftop bar and – if they’re anything like me – had a little bit more appreciation for what they saw.   

It was another Wednesday full of engaging leadership speakers and learning about the City of Lakeland. Next week SLP is heading over to Parker Street Ministries for our volunteerism week!



SLP 2023 Intern