Once a quarter, our staff selects a member of the Fort Smith community to be named a Hometown Hospitality Hero.
Fort Smith and our region benefit tremendously from conventions and events brought to our area. Attracting and retaining these happenings relies on the efforts of everyone in the hospitality industry. Often, Fort Smith attracts these conventions, events, and tournaments after individual local citizens decide they’d like their group’s event to be held in Fort Smith and take the initiative to bring a potential event to our Convention & Visitors Bureau’s attention. We work with these citizens to win the bid, attract attendees and help their idea come to life. The citizens that our staff feels have brought the most positive exposure and economic impact to our city we name Hometown Hospitality Heroes. We appreciate these people and all of those who help us bring more visitors to Fort Smith more than we can say!
Our newest hometown hospitality hero is Susan Fiori, Past Board Member of the Fort Smith Irish Dance Council, and long time organizer and supporter of the River Valley Feis and the Irish Dancing School that is supports. In the late 90’s, she and a small group of enthusiastic Moms who wanted to bring Irish Dance to the River Valley worked with Linda McDonough to start and Irish Dancing School.
Soon there was a need for permanent space and a certified instructor. In February 2001 Judy McCafferty and her husband PJ, both certified Irish Dance teachers and adjudicators, moved to Arkansas and agreed to travel to Fort Smith to teach the 40 or so students who were ready to learn. As the school grew, lessons were held in school gyms, stages and various locations. Permanent space to conduct lessons was needed as well as the funding to procure and operate the space.
To obtain necessary funding for this activity, the Fort Smith Irish Dance Council, a 501C3 was formed. Susan Fiori was a founding member. Many types of fundraisers were held including an annual Irish Festival. On the horizon though was always the dream of holding an Irish Dance competition called a Feis (fesh).
In 2006 it was decided to partner with the Fayetteville branch of the McCafferty Irish Dance School to work together to host the first River Valley Feis. This combined effort went well and the Fort Smith Irish Dance Council gained confidence. In 2009 The Fort Smith School decided to host it themselves and the Fayetteville group hosted an event of their own in Branson, Mo. Since 2009, the FSIDC has hosted 4 competitions on their own. Each event has grown and become a popular one on the dancing competition circuit. Susan says, “I attribute that popularity to the hospitality and kind spirit that the Fort Smith community shows towards our guests. Each year we get feedback from our competitors showing how much they appreciate and enjoy their trip to the city.”
This has become an Annual Event at the Fort Smith Convention center. The first event was held for about 200 dancers from surrounding states. This year in 2012 the event has grown to over 350 dancers and their families. Room nights are estimated at about 100 for our out of town participants result in about $15,000 direct economic impact and $45,000, total Economic impact created by this event. With the growth curve that this group has created, continued growth in economic impact is a given.
(Photo by: Linda Kaufenberg at The City Wire)
Looking back on all the effort that has moved this organization forward, Susan reflects on those years: “My daughter having danced since the age of 4 was entranced with Irish Step Dance the first time she saw the McDonough girls perform. She turned to me and said, ‘ I want to do that’. No longer actively involved, she danced from the age of 12 thru college. She and I, like those still involved, are passionate about the art and see it as a great addition to the Fort Smith cultural scene. That is why I am still involved and find it important to continue to support the FSIDC and the McCafferty School of Irish Dance”.
Thanks Susan Fiori and the Fort Smith Irish Dance Council for continuing to bring Irish Dance and the River Valley Feis to Fort Smith!