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July 16, 2024

Crista Cooper

New Director of Main Street & Comm. Devt.

By Lyndsi Naron, The Bolivar Bullet

Crista Cooper was recently hired as the new Director of Main Street & Community Development at the Cleveland-Bolivar Chamber of Commerce. 

“Being a proud Delta native from Greenville and a Washington School alumnus, serving my community brings me immense joy and gratitude,” said Cooper. 

Cooper graduated from Mississippi State in 2020 with her bachelor’s degree in English, and went straight into the workforce as a teacher and coach at Riverside High School. She had always planned on being a teacher because her mother and grandmother were both teachers and a huge inspiration to her. She taught 8th grade English, coached soccer, and started a track team during her first year.

“I loved it,” said Cooper. “Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, I pursued further education while being a first-year teacher, completing my master’s degree in education online through Mississippi College.”

The next year Cooper said she was moved into the upper grades in high school, teaching college career and readiness to 12th graders while teaching the other electives to the 10th grade. But, after two years at Riverside, Cooper decided she needed a change. 

“In May 2022, I celebrated my marriage to my best friend, Lawson Cooper,” said Cooper. “Choosing Cleveland as our home was an easy decision, driven by our shared love for the town’s warmth and spirit. I loved growing up in Greenville, but I think the best decision for us is to be in Cleveland.”

In August of 2022, Cooper said she started at Bayou Academy as a 10th grade teacher. She taught English and speech and debate, while also helping coach soccer, basketball, and track. In her second year at Bayou, she began helping with the school social media accounts while adding annual staff and broadcasting to her class schedule.  

“While teaching and coaching at Bayou Academy, I discovered a passion for marketing and social media,” said Cooper.

Cooper said she was happy in her position and loved her job working with children, but when a close friend sent her the job opening at the chamber she felt she needed to pursue the opportunity. 

“I wasn’t even looking for a job or anything,” said Cooper. “She texted me and said, ‘you need to look at this job’. This sounds just like you. So, I looked at it. I read all about it, and I decided it did sound right up my alley. I applied not thinking much of it.”

Cooper said she didn’t expect to be chosen for the position because her only experience was as a teacher, but she was pleasantly surprised by the interview with Hannah Aguzzi, the executive director of the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce. 

“I just felt like I clicked with her,” said Cooper. “We talked about things we wanted to do in the community, and things that could be better.”

Cooper shared it is never easy to see a teacher leaving the school system, and she will miss the job as well as the kids, but she feels strongly she is where she is supposed to be. 

“Transitioning to my new role at the Chamber, I am excited to bring my energy and expertise to initiatives that will enhance Cleveland’s growth and prosperity. Along with working with and supporting our team within the Chamber, I am dedicated to utilizing our combined strengths to create opportunities for businesses and residents to thrive.”

According to Cooper, her expertise as a teacher will help her deal with multiple personalities, her experience planning lessons will be an asset to the chambers planning committees, and her background in English will help her communicate the purpose of the chamber with the community.

“With teaching, I have had to learn how to take one lesson and distribute it in different ways so that every child in my classroom understands it in their own way,” said Cooper. “I think that’s a quality that many other people don’t really learn. Being a teacher is going to help so much in this role because I’m able to communicate to different people. I understand how to show them different things in the best way they’ll perceive them.”

In her new role, Cooper said she “will supervise, direct and administer the day to day business and management of Team Cleveland (Cleveland’s Main Street program), Welcome Home Cleveland (Cleveland’s Certified Retirement Community program), and Cleveland-Bolivar County Young Professionals, including the implementation of policies and procedures, program development, financial management, marketing, and community and downtown business/property owner relations.”

“Main Street is an actual association throughout the whole U.S.,” said Cooper. “There’s Main Street America and then there are multiple main street associations within each state. They are organizations that focus on revitalizing and improving downtown areas. We go through the process of getting accredited every year.”

Cooper said she is currently in the process of applying for a T-Mobile grant.

“It is up to $500,000 for your town,” said Cooper. “By the end of the year we have to make sure that all that money is accounted for. Right now we’re able to start biting away at Octoberfest and bigger events that are coming up like our annual award ceremony.”

According to Cooper, her goals are to bring as much economic prosperity to Cleveland as possible, to create excitement for current programing and events, and to get more people involved in downtown. 

“Some ideas we’ve been talking about are adding another mural, fixing the speakers on the walking trail, or improving/renovating the gazebo,” said Cooper. 

According to Cooper, there is some restructuring going on at the chamber under Aguzzi’s leadership, and there are exciting things in the works. 

“Once things settle down and we fix the structure of the chamber, we can get all these things done that we want to get done,” said Cooper. “Hannah’s been doing a great job, and kudos to her because it’s a lot of work. She is someone I look up to, and she’ll keep her word and go to the end of the earth to make sure she finds the correct answer to something.”

Cooper said her passion is in making things better than they were when she received them. 

“My passion makes me want to get up and go do things,” said Cooper. “I want to make something better. That’s what drives me. That’s what makes me wake up in the morning.”

Cooper wants to set her roots here in Cleveland and is eager to continue serving the community that holds a special place in her heart. 

“With the town’s support, I am confident we will continue to build a thriving environment in our special town,” said Cooper. “My appointment as Director of Main Street & Community Development signifies a pivotal moment in Cleveland’s journey, and I am privileged to be part of this exciting phase in our town’s history.”