In 2001, the Arkansas Community Foundation, a non-profit, statewide philanthropic organization, decided to expand into Craighead County. When the newest chapter was opened with help from the Walton Family Charitable Foundation’s PARTNERS program, local businesswoman and community volunteer Barbara Weinstock was approached about serving as the organization’s part-time executive director.
Weinstock, who would also serve nearly 20 years as a Craighead County Justice of the Peace, had one problem.
“I didn’t have a resume. I’d always worked for myself, so I never needed one,” she said with a laugh at a recent ACF Craighead County meeting.
Despite her lack of a resume, Weinstock worked for nearly 20 years as the organization’s executive director, retiring in 2020. During her tenure, ACF Craighead County’s assets grew from a paltry few thousand dollars collected in 2002 to more than $10 million in assets in 2021. About $3 million in grants have been distributed by the organization. It’s the third largest affiliate, according to board members.
ACF was founded in 1976 with help from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. Since it began, the organization has formed 20 affiliates statewide, and has given $314 million in grants and partnered with thousands of Arkansans to help improve neighborhoods, towns and state, according to ACF.
When Weinstock retired, she was replaced by Melissa Ayers. Replacing Weinstock was a daunting task, and even after she assumed the position she had her mentor on “speed dial,” Ayers admitted.
ACF Craighead County has donated money to a wide range of causes through the years. Those include books for students, meals, car seats, housing, scholarships, training for CASA volunteers, supplies for diabetics and many others, she added.
Nearly 53% of grants have gone to families/human services, 21% have gone to health/public health and prevention, about 10% has gone to education, while the rest has gone to communities and other needs.
“You name it and we’ve funded it in some shape or form,” Ayers said.
Education and hunger are two areas the organization has focused its efforts in recent years. It has provided 22 scholarship endowments each year at a cost of about $42,000. Those direct scholarships have totaled more than $320,000 and impacted at least 192 students.
In 2019, ACF started an initiative to improve reading skills in the state. Only 37% of Arkansas third graders read at or above grade level. That number is even lower in Craighead County at 35%.
The organization partnered with Excel By Eight to provide matching grants for reading programs led by City Youth Ministries, Valley View Public Schools, The Learning Center and Hispanic Communities Services Inc.
In the coming year, the local and state organization will focus on relieving food insecurity. It’s estimated that 16% of all households in Craighead County lack access to enough food for “an active, healthy lifestyle for all household members.”
ACF Craighead County has disbursed grants to a host of nonprofits ranging from $500 to $8,000 to help feed those in need and those efforts will ramp up in the coming year Board Chair Bill Harrison said.
Northeast Arkansas’ largest city has its fair share of people and organizations that are willing to donate to worthy causes, but the number needs to grow in the coming years. ACF Craighead County needs to find ways in the coming decades to increase the amount of giving which will in turn reduce the sufferings of the community’s most vulnerable populations, he said.
“How can we inspire Jonesboro to be more philanthropic? That’s the question we will need to answer,” Harrison said.