CRDC to Develop 'System of Care' for Impoverished Arkansans
Poverty in Arkansas is an issue. According to the TalkPoverty.com website, the state’s poverty rate was around 18% in 2015. Some counties in the state have it worse than others.
In Northeast Arkansas, Greene County’s poverty rate was below the state average, while St. Francis County exceeded the average at 27.7%. With so many people living in poverty, something has to be done to correct it. That is where the Crowley’s Ridge Development Council comes in.
“The Crowley's Ridge Development Council is one of 16 community action agencies in Arkansas that was created more than 50 years ago to fight the war on poverty," said Tim Wooldridge.
A former state legislator and Paragould native, Wooldridge is the Executive Director for the CRDC.
The “community action agency” he refers to was established in Arkansas under a federal law created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid 1960’s.
Established in 1969, Wooldridge said the CRDC is the federally mandated community action agency in charge of helping Arkansans in poverty living within the 8 county area they serve in Northeast Arkansas (Craighead, Greene, Jackson, Poinsett, Cross, Crittenden, St. Francis, and Woodruff Counties).
The CRDC offers various services based on the needs of the area. Needs such as housing, transportation through NEAT (Northeast Arkansas Transit), home weatherization, and substance abuse programs, just to name a few.
"A lot of folks may not realize," Wooldridge said, "that we had the only residential substance abuse center called 'NEARK' out on Post Road in Jonesboro--the only one in the region."
When Wooldridge became the executive director for the CRDC, he noticed a huge problem.
"It became apparent to me, relatively quickly, that in some counties we were doing some things wonderfully well, but in other counties there’s just a lack of that help," Wooldridge explained.
He also noticed that there are other organizations in the area who are also working in the fight against poverty. However, those organizations were having similar problems of being able to effectively help.
"We recognized that there needs to be an umbrella, or 'a blanket-process' by which we make sure that we coordinate a better; more consistent delivery of these benefits and services across the 8 county area," Wooldridge said.
He recognized that the CRDC would not be able to help everyone in the region, but they could allow the other organizations to fulfill needs of their clients. The organizations could go to the CRDC for support in their efforts to help tackle poverty.
The CRDC recently held a stakeholder retreat at Arkansas State University with community leaders, state legislators, and municipal officials. They discussed a solution, or a “system of care”, for coordinating services effectively across the region. Wooldridge said this system allows the CRDC to be the leader in helping smaller organizations provide services.
“Just like there are protocols for delivery of healthcare and other services," Wooldridge explains, "we think we need to develop those same types of processes for the delivery of social services. All of this is done with the goal in mind of helping those in disadvantaged situations to realize their full potential.”
Wooldridge said the meeting was the first of more meetings to come as they work together to establish the system of care in the region.
He said the next meeting is planned for some time in the Fall.