Find help at ‘Connect Crittenden’
Community outreach program nearing its first year in operation
By Ralph Hardin
The Rolling Stones, in their 1968 single “Let It Bleed” once opined, “We all need someone we can lean on.”
In an effort to address the struggles faced by residents due to transportation limitations, Connect Crittenden, a new webbased project, was launched in June 2022 with aims to centralize social services and combat food insecurity in the area.
The initiative serves as a collaborative effort between the Arkansas Department of Health and Crittenden County, supported by a federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Crittenden County is home to nearly 50,000 residents, with thousands residing in rural areas with no grocery stores or doctor’s offices. Despite its close proximity to Memphis and even with local food stores and medical canters, residents often face challenges in accessing basic necessities, such as food and healthcare.
As a result, the county experiences one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Arkansas, making the presence of service
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organizations critical for many individuals.
Connect Crittenden aims to bridge the gap between residents and essential services by providing a userfriendly website. By simply entering their ZIP code on the home page, users gain access to an extensive list of services available in their area. For instance, entering the ZIP code 72301 for West Memphis, Arkansas, reveals 1,706 social programs within or near the area. These programs are categorized under various headings, including food delivery, housing assistance, transportation, financial education, workplace rights, and more.
The project, staffed by fulltime personnel, including Connect Crittenden Project Manager Kendra Phillips, a native of West Memphis, was made possible through the CDC grant. The website not only benefits residents but also enables leaders and staff members of various organizations to locate other service groups, fostering collaboration and referrals to better serve their clientele.
Centralization of services for a population of this size is relatively rare in government circles, making Connect Crittenden a unique initiative. Phillips expressed her hope that other small counties grappling with similar challenges will apply to the CDC for funding and implement comparable strategies to enhance their communities. While the establishment of the portal was a significant achievement, the project's success depended on the participation of local service groups. Connect Crittenden collaborated with Tawana Bailey, then the director of community outreach for West Memphis, now a part of the East Arkansas Planning & Development District, to disseminate information about the platform. They employed strategies such as featuring a link to the website on the county's official page, launching an extensive social media campaign, and organizing inperson events to reach underserved individuals.
Connect Crittenden continues to grow, attracting more service providers and expanding its reach within the community. The project plans to partner with a back-to-school program in early August to raise awareness among parents about the resources available through the platform.
Arkansas State Rep.
Deborah Ferguson (D-West Memphis, praised the CDC grant at the time of its launch for enabling the project. Ferguson, whose husband, Dr. Scott Ferguson, is a practicing physician in West Memphis, emphasized that having a centralized hub like Connect Crittenden significantly eases the process of connecting patients with the necessary support services, including transportation and food access.
The platform replaces outdated methods where doctors, churches, and food banks relied on address books to find contact information for relevant services. However, one of the challenges lies in ensuring that all community partners are aware of the site and actively participate by signing up. Ferguson emphasized the importance of community engagement to fully unlock the potential benefits of Connect Crittenden. Its success could serve as a model for counties across the country facing similar challenges, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes and a better quality of life for residents.