The capital campaign to build the EmPowerment Center is nearing its half-way mark. Over the last three months, BCD has raised over $2 million towards its goal of $5.5 million. Two of the largest funders include Arkansas Development Finance Authority with $1.8 million and Federal Home Loan Bank with $622,000.
When completed, the facility will have 48 rooms to house individuals in need of supportive and residential services. Residents of the facility also will receive life-skills training, job training, and other services through the facility.
"This grant really helped the dream come true," said Deborah Bell, Director of Programs for Black Community Developers. "Because of collaborations and partnerships between nonprofits, faith-based groups, city and state governments, we can really make a difference in rebuilding our community. We’re looking at a continuum of care for people; it’s not just about the housing."
Bank of the Ozarks was excited to be part of the project, said Eric Gustafson, Community Development Officer for Bank of the Ozarks.
"Black Community Developers is a longstanding community development and social services provider in Little Rock so the bank has a good relationship with them," said Mr. Gustafson. "They really are creating a center for empowerment for the entire community. They will provide treatment programs and also provide a lot of services to the community, as well, so the bank is attracted to that mission and that purpose."
In addition to the services the BCD Empowerment Center will provide to the city, it also will be located along the 12th street corridor, which is part of a larger, more comprehensive planning study being sponsored by the city of Little Rock, Mr. Gustafson said.
"The people that are part of the program are essentially homeless," Mr. Gustafson said. "They can’t pay much rent at all until they get on their feet. So this doesn’t happen without grants. This is a project that truly needs as much grant money and soft funds as it can get."
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When BCD first approached Quintella Jones about selling her property so that BCD could build the EmPowerment Center, she refused.
"I lived in this house for 32 years, and some of my neighbors kept coming to my house telling me not to sell. They said, ’Those people will never build you a house.’ But God showed me this house in a dream before BCD ever came to my door."
Not only did BCD build her a home, but they also moved her 30-year-old garden to the new house.
To celebrate 20 years of National Recovery Month, BCD welcomed a panel of judges and legal professionals to speak at Family Night at the Hoover Treatment Center. With several former clients and defendants in the audience, the panel (including Attorney Michael Booker, Judges Mary McGowan and Willard Proctor, Jr.) discussed their legal careers and shared some poignant moments with the crowd.
"When I decided to pursue law, it was during a time when America was witnessing great optimism, and we thought we could change the world, and I thought I could make change as a judge," said McGowan.
The judges pointed out several transformations they have witnessed over the decades in how addicts and the mentally ill are treated in the legal system and advocated for more changes.
"In 1991, funding to treat substance abuse and mental illness was managed by two separate bureaucracies: Arkansas Department of Health and the Department of Human Services," said McGowan. "And these two agencies did not work together effectively."
As a result, thousands of individuals who suffered from a dual diagnosis of mental illness AND addiction could not easily access treatment for both illnesses. Today, professionals recognize that many people who suffer from one of these illnesses often suffer from both, and the system has changed to reflect that reality.
Additionally the panel advocated for more attorneys to follow Michael Booker’s example and be elected to the Arkansas Legislature. The panel explained that private citizens often succumb to the urge to criminalize bad behavior. "We need to stop locking up folks just because we’re mad at them," said Proctor. He continued to explain how this tendency to criminalize more and more bad behavior burdens the criminal justice system. They argued that their experience with defendants makes judges and attorneys better able to focus on real solutions to criminal behavior other than prison.
"During the last three legislative sessions, we’ve been able to prove when the legislature diverts $3 million to fund treatment options then the state sees a return on its investment by reducing crime and decreasing the recidivism rate," explained McGowan.
"Obviously all of us here do believe that some criminals need to be locked up," said Proctor. "But oftentimes, when I send someone to jail, it’s because I’m trying to get inside their head and give them the opportunity to get away from the drugs and alcohol to change their mindset and transform their lives. The only way to change behavior is by changing the way you think."
As the panel was making their final comments, several members of the audience stood up and testified about their own experiences in the criminal justice system. One woman stood and said, "I would like to thank you for giving me so many chances. It took me 15 years to complete (the original sentence of) 5 years of probation. But that last time I was in court, I changed my way of thinking, and it my children back their mother, and it gave me back my life."
Another stood and said, "Thank you Ms. McGowan for sending me here. I’ve been here for 23 days, and I’ve learned more than I could in 23 years of prison."
McGowan acknowledged the work of Rev. William Robinson, Jr., executive director of BCD, Inc. "It’s been through Rev. Robinson’s efforts that so much has been accomplished. And I continue to lean on him so heavily... more than any other service provider because he gives results. I applaud BCD for having programs like Family Night because it reinforces the role of the community in recovery and treatment."
BCD’s Hoover Center hosts Family Night each Wednesday evening at the Hoover United Methodist Church. "Many of our clients are sent through the criminal justice system," explained Hoover Case Manager Colette Young. "Programs like this allow our clients to see the system in the terms of punishment or treatment but as an opportunity to learn about their addiction and themselves."
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Hundreds came together in the Little Rock River Market to celebrate National Recovery Month at the 5th Annual Recovery Jam. Honored presenter, Joe Hill, director of Arkansas Department of Human Services Alcohol and Drug Prevention Program, spoke on this year’s theme: Celebrating the Voices of Recovery - Together We Learn, Together We Heal. This annual event brings together service providers and recovering addicts for an afternoon of fun, food, music, honored speakers, and entertainment. Learn more about National Recovery Month by visiting www.recoverymonth.gov. Visit the BCD website to see our slide show of pictures from the event.