Helpers keep the faith

Businesses lend a hand

Cecelia Johnson (left) and Russ Johnson, both of Fayetteville, pack food boxes March 16 at the Fayetteville Public Schools food pantry called The Outback located at the ALLPS School of Innovation at 2350 Old Farmington Road. The Outback is one of the organizations that will benefit from the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation covid-19 Family Relief Fund. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)
Cecelia Johnson (left) and Russ Johnson, both of Fayetteville, pack food boxes March 16 at the Fayetteville Public Schools food pantry called The Outback located at the ALLPS School of Innovation at 2350 Old Farmington Road. The Outback is one of the organizations that will benefit from the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation covid-19 Family Relief Fund. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

This is Part Two of our task to follow Mr. Rogers' advice to "find the helpers" in Northwest Arkansas. It isn't hard to do: our community is full of people who are looking for ways to support the most vulnerable people in the region. Often, one person or organization leads us to another person or organization until we find we're following a thread of helpers that weaves in and out across the counties.

Keith Brown and Brown's Collision Center Help Feed the Community

How to Help

Fayetteville Public Education Foundation covid-19 Family Relief Fund

Donate to the Fayetteville Education Foundation Fund by visiting fayedfoundation.org. Purchase a T-shirt to benefit the fund at stores.inksoft.corn/villeonthehill/shop/home.

Catalyst Fund

Direct struggling families to www.harknwa.com/get… where they can receive assistance.

Brown’s Collision Center Grocery Fund

Encourage families in need to call (479) 273-2639 to apply for a week’s worth of groceries.

Aerosol Boxes for Medical Professionals

Email dayton@redearchitec… to find out how you can help fund the creation of more aerosol boxes for area hospitals and clinics.

NWA Buzz

Help Natalie McCranie update NWA Buzz by emailing her at [email protected].

If you — or someone you know — is pitching in to help support the community during this time of crisis, email [email protected]. We want to tell the world about it!

"People hear so much about greed and see so much negative news -- I think it's nice to hear some good news," says Keith Brown, founder and operator of Brown's Collision Center, which has been in business in Bentonville since 1989. So Brown decided to be a generator of good news: His company announced last week that it would be donating a week's worth of groceries to 100 Bentonville-area families affected by the covid-19 outbreak.

"This effort is aimed at families that are affected, in some way, by the coronavirus situation," explains Brown. "Whether they've been laid off or if their company had to close, and they don't have income coming in -- or the income coming in isn't enough to support their families. Maybe there are families out there that are older and can't get out and only have Social Security to live on in addition to an illness and medications they need to take. Basically, we're reaching out to those people who need a hand up. We're blessed, here at Brown's, to have the ability to do this at this time."

For Brown, vehicle repair is in his blood: In his Bentonville office, photos on the wall illustrate his family's long history with the business. His great-grandfather is pictured repairing a wooden wagon; his grandfather, a Model-T car; and his father, hefty cars from the 1940s and 1950s.

"Our business has always been based on the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you would have done to you,'" says Brown. "We love helping people. We're a service business -- people walk into our office not because they want to but because something bad has happened to them. We try to take as much of the stress as possible off of them. This particular situation is pretty stressful, and through no fault of their own. We want to help."

Brown and his team are currently culling through applications -- he estimates they have about 65 so far -- and are working out the logistics, which include making sure they pay close attention to any dietary needs or restrictions a family may have. They also want to make sure the food is delivered in the safest way possible, which means they're abiding by strict safety guidelines in their own offices.

"Our main office has less than three people in it, and we are cleaning and disinfecting three times a day," he notes.

Brown says there are several ways Bentonville residents can apply for the help.

"The best thing for people to do is to call us directly at (479) 273-2639," he says. "We have a specialist in this area that we've assigned to take the phone calls. We'll ask them a series of questions -- contact information, family size, approximate ages of children, things like that. They can either answer the questions by phone or they can email us at [email protected]. We can email a questionnaire right out to them, and they can fill it out, take a picture with their phone and email it back to us."

For Brown, the effort is a way to give back to a community that has supported his company for more than 30 years.

"One thing my dad used to say to me for years and years was, 'Son, into life some rain must fall. But always remember that the sun is going to shine again,'" says Brown. "I tell people, we just want to be one little ray of sunlight after the storm is gone, and put a little light into the community. We hope what we do will inspire other businesses to do the same."

Hark Offers Connections to Resources and Financial Support to Community

Hark calls itself "the help desk for human services."

"Three years ago, we launched Hark -- a nonprofit that helps people get connected to vital community resources," says Josh Hall, the organization's executive director. "We use this phrase a lot, especially now: 'Hark is for those moments when life happens.' Since then, we've helped thousands of people connect to services as they and their families need them.

"Hark has a massive, constantly updated map of Northwest Arkansas resources across 50 categories of need for 200-plus services, meaning we can make over 1,000 referrals. We can identify the available resources that are right for the situation, build a customized resource plan and then follow up to make sure people get connected to the services they need. And all of this is free to the people we serve."

All of this made the organization uniquely positioned to spring into action in the face of a global health crisis, especially given one particular tool on Hark's tool belt.

"Around 150,000 people in Northwest Arkansas already fall into a high-risk category, meaning people are employed but are maybe one or two circumstances away from falling into crisis -- say, an unexpected medical bill. So we wanted to create a low-barrier fund that would catch people before they got an eviction notice. We created the fund having no idea that anything like [covid-19] would happen, but we're very happy we have it now."

The Catalyst Fund is a collaboration of the Walton Family Foundation, Hark and Hark's parent organization, Endeavor Foundation.

"A lot of financial assistance programs require an eviction notice to be eligible," Hall says. "We try to make Catalyst dollars accessible to people before they are in a full-on crisis."

Hark strives to address people's issues holistically, so anyone who applies for the fund will also receive Hark's core connection services, says Hall.

"As an example: Someone contacts us and says they have a food need, they have a financial assistance need. Maybe they need budgeting and credit counseling help, especially now -- they might have a whole new income structure and need help figuring out how to adjust. Maybe they're struggling with credit card debt and need counseling on how to consolidate their credit cards. There could be legal issues. We break all of their needs down into 10 primary aspects: education, food, goods, health, housing, legal, financial, social support, transportation and work. These are then refined into the 50 need categories, so people's issues could be myriad things, across all those areas. And we know where we can send them for help."

Those wanting to connect to resources through Hark or to see if they are eligible for the Catalyst Fund should visit www.harknwa.com/getconnected. Once they've filled out the online form with some basic information, a Hark community liaison will contact them directly.

"I think a lot of people are going to need help that haven't previously needed help, and a lot of them aren't going to know where to go," says Hall. "A lot of financial assistance programs aren't necessarily structured for a situation like [covid-19], but that's what we're designed to do.

"It's more evident now, more than ever before, that life happens to all of us. Hark is in a unique place to do what we do, what we've been doing for years. We are here to support Northwest Arkansas."

Cambre Horne-Brooks and the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation Look Out for the Most Vulnerable FPS Families

The Fayetteville Public Education Foundation is accustomed to filling in the gaps for Fayetteville Public School students and teachers. Founded in 1992, the organization has been funding grants for "innovative and pioneering programs that academically enrich our students' education experience" for nearly three decades. So when Fayetteville Public Schools announced that the school system would be closing as a result of the covid-19 outbreak, Executive Director Cambre Horne-Brooks says she quickly realized that her organization needed to step up and help where it could.

"We immediately began a conversation with school board members and Joy Shirley, Fayetteville Public Schools director of student services, so we could implement a response as soon as possible," says Horne-Brooks. The result was the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation's covid-19 Family Relief Fund. "We've been working in close partnership with the Families in Transition Program and the FPS Outback Services that the school district provides for our vulnerable and underserved students. We know that, even outside of crises, especially during the holidays, there are emergent needs that families face. We try to partner with our donor base to act as the fiscal agent to serve some of those needs."

Horne-Brooks says fiscal interventions like this one could be the difference between very bad and better outcomes for some of these families.

"We know that, for a vast majority of kids whose families are accessing these services, 'homeless' looks different than just being on the streets," she explains. "It may mean they're living in someone else's apartment temporarily or seeking temporary shelter in a hotel. They may be split up among friends, sleeping on a couch. A lot of times, these families find themselves in what could be a preventable crunch -- if we could prevent utilities being turned off in their home, especially in winter, we could avoid them having to come back in with a credit check and deposit. There may be a family who is having trouble with making the last bit of rent, which could be the difference between them staying in their home or moving to a shelter."

Horne-Brooks says the fund is unique, because the FPEF is "hoping to have what we would call 'unrestricted financial support' so the school's social services can allocate the money to the greatest need. They're also concurrently working with us to find food and hard consumables that are being delivered to the families, connecting them to the free and reduced lunches, toiletries, gas money, prescriptions -- the other essentials that go above and beyond food and clothing that families need."

While such needs are not unique to the current situation, Horne-Brooks says the covid-19 outbreak will exacerbate the issues.

"People are being laid off, especially those in the service industry," she points out. "People may be having to stay at home because kids aren't in school -- that's going to put another crunch on the family. And of course, the worst case scenario is if family members get ill. These are families that are one paycheck away from being on the street, homeless, completely depleted of cash resources. We are setting up a safety net so we can be a resource for those families."

As of last week, the fund had already reached $11,000, with an ultimate goal of $20,000. The effort has attracted the attention of people like Kevin Harvey, a local entrepreneur and creator of "The Ville on the Hill" merchandise, who announced on March 23 that he would be developing a T-shirt design with the words "Fayetteville Strong" to support the fund.

"I've lived in Fayetteville since 1983, and I love Fayetteville -- it's my home," says Harvey. "I really wanted to do something to give back. We're going to give 100% of the profits of the T-shirt to the fund. At this point, I think everyone is struggling, and I'm just trying to find a way to support the folks who are struggling the most."

To order a "Fayetteville Strong" T-shirt, visit stores.inksoft.corn/villeonthehill/shop/home.

Dayton Castleman and Resource Design Organize an Effort to Protect Health Care Workers on the Front Lines

Artist Dayton Castleman started his new job at Rogers' architectural firm Resource Design on March 9.

"No one knew that by the sixth day on the job I would be working from home," says Castleman, who previously served as the manager of the 21c Museum Hotel museum manager for seven years. "My onboarding with Resource Design was not as we had hoped for in terms of me assisting 'business as usual'."

Instead, Castleman found himself searching the internet for a way he could use his skills to help out in the face of a global pandemic.

"Our CEO, Jessica Hester, asked me to start brainstorming ways that we could help the community," says Castleman. "I'll be frank: My practical usefulness to Resource Design was cut short, pretty dramatically and quickly. I took that to heart, and I started brainstorming how I, as a designer, with the network I have and the ability to do this through Resource Design -- 'How can I help?'"

The first project he got involved in was helping Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week Executive Director Robin Wallis Atkinson's efforts to hand make medical masks for those on the front lines of fighting the virus. Next, he asked his primary care physician for suggestions. Through that connection, he heard that a Mercy Hospital doctor thought Plexiglas boxes designed to shield medical professionals while they were intubating covid-19 patients -- a process that could potentially expose doctors and nurses to aerosolized covid-19 germs -- were needed.

"This box was designed by Taiwanese doctor Dr. Lai Hsien-yung as a way to create a greater safety barrier for physicians working in the emergency rooms and intensive care units," says Castleman. "This doctor made his design public, it's open source, so we're able to access the design. Resource Design gave me free rein to pursue the fabrication of these boxes, so we now have three of them that we'll be able to deliver Wednesday morning. They'll be utilized and vetted and potentially mobilized at Mercy."

Castleman says the ultimate goal is about 40 Plexiglas boxes, with area craftspeople pitching in to make them -- like neon artist Brian Bailey, who went to Fort Smith to pick up a load of Plexiglas from Mr. Plastic, who sold the materials for the project at cost.

"There's been a lot of community support for it," says Castleman. "Vendors [are] saying that they'll donate labor costs for creating these. It's great, and it's hard, because right now there's no business that's feeling stable."

Castleman says he is currently exploring private funding avenues for the boxes, which, he estimates, will cost around $75-$100 each to make.

"Hospital funds are drained right now," he says. He's also exploring the possibility of using "Rogers Experimental House, our community creative space, so if we do need to raise money, we can figure out how to do it in a tax deductible way."

Castleman says the last two weeks have left him feeling like he's "on a roller coaster."

Suddenly, he says, "I went from 'I'm super excited about this, love my new office space and my co-workers,' to wondering if I was going to keep my job. It was a big loop. Lots of people are in that boat, and I'm grateful to Jessica Hester for giving her blessing to me working on this on behalf of Resource Design. When you're cooped up, you can feel sort of helpless: 'What good can I do?' All of these other makers getting excited about it indicates that we all want to participate somehow. We're not on the front lines like medical professionals, we're certainly in a different context, but we have that desire to be part of the solution and to use our heads and try to innovate. The upshot of it is, 'Everybody rally in any way you can, with whatever resources you have.'"

Natalie McCranie Creates a Website to Spotlight Area Restaurants

Natalie McCranie, a 17-year-old Northwest Arkansas Community College student, was working at her job at Smokin' Joe's Ribhouse when the covid-19 shutdowns first started happening.

"We had several people call [Smokin' Joe's] and ask if we were open," she remembers. "They sounded very frustrated, like they had called a lot of other businesses besides us."

McCranie's father owns a local business called T3 Web Services, and the two had been brainstorming ways they could help small businesses stay afloat during the crisis. McCranie came home and pitched an idea to her dad: a website that published up-to-the-minute information on Northwest Arkansas restaurants that were still serving meals via takeout or delivery.

"We named [the website] 'NWA Buzz' because, eventually, I want it cover everything going on in Northwest Arkansas," she says. "Right now, we have about 100 restaurants that show whether they do delivery or takeout -- restaurants in Centerton, Elkins, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville, and, by the end of tonight, we'll have some listed from every single town in Northwest Arkansas."

McCranie is methodically calling every restaurant phone number she can find listed on the internet.

"I've been going town by town," she says. "It's taken me hours, so far."

But McCranie says all the time and effort will be worth it if she can just play a small part in keeping businesses alive.

"I think it's really important for our community, for as long as we can, to do everything we can to keep everyone in business," she says. "I just heard about a business that laid off all of their workers because they weren't getting enough business. That's what I'm trying to avoid."

NAN Profiles on 03/29/2020