Connect Crittenden Launches: Blazing the Trail for a New Approach to Community Resources in the County

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Kendra Phillips grew up in West Memphis, Arkansas, and after attending college out of state, she quickly returned to the hometown she loves. West Memphis, whose motto is “beautiful from every direction,” is located in Crittenden County, bordered to the east by the Mississippi River. The county is home to 47,500 people, many of whom have dedicated their lives to service with community organizations. 

Yet Kendra, who works in healthcare, also sees the unmet needs of her community. “We see people who can’t afford their co-pay, and who don’t have money to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables,” she says. “We see it firsthand every single day, how many people are struggling.”

Challenges Facing Crittenden County

State and local leaders also recognize the region’s needs. Crittenden County has the highest rate of food insecurity within the state, with 1 in 3 children living below the poverty line. At 22.9%, the county’s poverty rate is twice the national average, leading many families to struggle with basic needs like food and healthcare, and contributing toward its ranking as fifth in the state for poor health outcomes. Local nonprofits provide vital services, but the lack of an up-to-date resource directory and collaboration between organizations has made it difficult for people seeking help to connect with resources.

West Memphis Arkansas Bridge

Big River Crossing, West Mempis, AR

A Turning Point: The Arkansas Department of Health and Crittenden County’s SDoH Accelerator Plan, Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

In early 2021, a group of Crittenden County community leaders, along with representatives from the Arkansas Legislature, the Arkansas Department of Health, and findhelp assembled a small leadership team committed to closing the gap on barriers to achieving health equity in the County. As a result of this effort, the Arkansas Department of Health and Crittenden County officials applied for the CDC’s Closing the Gap with Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Plans grant to address Crittenden County’s SDoH challenges, and many local leaders voiced their support of the application.

Supporters included the Mayors of the City of West Memphis, Marion and Earle, key local, state and county officials,  including the Superintendent of Schools, the West Memphis Chamber of Commerce, the head of the Mid-South Community College, members of the Arkansas legislature, the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the East Arkansas Family Health Center, and a number of community based organizations.

Together, they emphasized the goal to build a foundation for addressing social determinants of health care gaps in Crittenden County to reduce disparities in health outcomes. 

Ever since the Arkansas Department of Health was awarded funding for the Crittenden County catchment area in Fall 2021, a diverse group of dedicated government and community leaders have worked tirelessly to create an infrastructure plan that bridges the gap between organizations providing services and people seeking help. In order to achieve their goals, leaders knew they needed a way to connect people with resources in their community. Through the leadership team’s work, an idea began to take shape: Connect Crittenden, a website that will help connect people to food, housing, transportation, healthcare, and many other local resources. 

The Connect Crittenden Launch

After several months of planning, Connect Crittenden, powered by findhelp, launched this June. The website will play a key role in the strategic plan to facilitate collaboration between community organizations and healthcare systems and allow people to easily search for help from the privacy of their own computer or mobile phone.

“I want to thank everyone who has made Connect Crittenden possible. The launch marks a key milestone in our work to increase cohesion between nonprofits and healthcare providers in Crittenden County. It means greater access for people seeking help, and greater awareness of resources available just a few miles from their home. This platform will strengthen the ties between organizations who are committed to health equity and the public good.” 

— Deborah Ferguson, Arkansas State Representative

Looking Toward the Future

As Crittenden County looks ahead, Kendra, the initiative’s project manager, is hopeful the website will pave the way for change. “A lot of our organizations have resources, but they’re on a piece of paper, and they can’t afford marketing to promote what they do,” she explains. “Now anyone can go in and type in the zip code and pull open what they need, so anyone can use it! This is hopefully going to be meaningful for a lot of people going forward.”

Local government officials share Kendra’s optimism about the platform, including the City of West Memphis’ Director of Community Outreach, who looks forward to community members being able to access resources through the website.

“I’m super excited about this project. Before, West Memphis didn’t have a resource hub, where people could learn about resources available to them. Connect Crittenden will help bridge the gap between citizens, city officials and departments, allowing our citizens to know that local resources exist. If you need help, this is where you can go to find it.” 

— Tawana Bailey, Director Of Community Outreach, City of West Memphis

In August, Kendra will lead a community stakeholders meeting, gathering government officials, pastors, and community organization leaders to discuss the direction they’re headed together. She’s also looking forward to the back-to-school community resource fair on August 6th from 11am-1pm in the West Memphis Old Courthouse parking lot, where residents can learn more about resources available to them.

Kendra is excited to see how the platform will help the community identify care gaps, such as transportation to clinics and food pantries, and create innovative solutions to challenges in the community, like collaborations between local nonprofits and higher education institutions to help people struggling with unemployment. 

Kendra loves her hometown and believes the next generation of Crittenden County residents can be healthier and more connected than her own. “This is going to connect us all and help us make a collaborative effort for people who need it most. This is the direction we’re going for the next generation. Everyone is hurting and everyone needs something. That’s why we need to connect and share.”

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