Why Community Development Matters

On this blog each month, I feature organizations and people whose work is having a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of those in our local communities. This month, I wanted to highlight community organizations that have helped families in central Arkansas and across the state through initiatives and community programs that foster both social and economic development. Through these vital programs, lives have been deeply touched and positively affected.

One example is Arkansas’s own Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) that has been helping Arkansans through education, economic development, and racial and social justice. Indeed, the late Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller himself would be inspired. Since its founding, WRF has lived up to its mission, lending a helping hand in communities all over our state and producing noticeable results – including their work on the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (AR-GLR).

In 2011, WRF partnered with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and the Arkansas Community Foundation to create the AR-GLR to improve Arkansas students’ reading abilities. The program focuses on helping students read at their appropriate grade levels and invests in encouraging parent and community engagement, school attendance, and summer reading. WRF works to give students the resources to achieve their potential to read at or above their suitable grade level.

The campaign’s mission to develop more interest and success in improving youth reading levels in Arkansas is something I personally believe in. While chairman of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2013, I endorsed and encouraged a similar initiative called AR Kids Read. AR Kids Read partnered with AR-GLR to sustain and improve the reading proficiency of Arkansas’s children.

Since their partnership, AR Kids Read now has a program that provides over 400 tutors from around 50 organizations to each of the four school districts in Pulaski County: Jacksonville/North Pulaski, Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski Country Special School District. AR Kids Read distributes thousands of books to classrooms in these districts. Furthermore, the AR-GLR is partnering with the Little Rock School District in tackling chronic school absences.

By creating the initiative “Make Every Day Count”, WRF encourages parents to push their children to attend their classes, especially at such a critical developmental stage in their lives. This coming fall, the program hopes to partner with each of the elementary schools in the Little Rock School District to set goals and plans for the 2017-18 school year.

I’m pleased to see the great benefits of WRF’s partnership and investment in our state’s youth. Organizations like the WRF and their partners, including AR Kids Read, are laying the foundation for our Arkansas youth - one book at a time. With further investment and support from citizens and community leaders, the growth of their mission and goals can truly make a difference. Until third grade, we “learn to read.” From that point forward, we “read to learn.” This good work of these organizations fundamentally and truly empowers our communities.

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