Blytheville recognized for community volunteerism

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Blytheville is one of only 12 communities around the state to earn the 2012 Arkansas Volunteer Community of the Year Award.

Others included Benton, Bentonville, Clarksville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Jonesboro, Maumelle, Mountain Home, Norfork, Van Buren and Warren.

A panel of citizens from across the state served on the selection committee and all the recipients have received the award in the past, though it has been years since some were honored with the recognition, according to a press release from the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

Angie Trotter of Blytheville worked up the application, compiling data that shows there were at least 141,323.75 hours logged by 5,482 volunteers in 2011-12. Using a rate of $16.24 per volunteer hour, Trotter estimated the total volunteer economic impact at a staggering $2,295,097.70.

And she said the list of 23 organizations was missing some volunteers because some churches and groups had not kept volunteer records.

"There are so many volunteers that are not recorded," Trotter said. "None of the churches keep any record of the innumerable number of hours that they put into the community."

She noted next year officials will start getting data around February, adding, "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

"To be among places like Jonesboro, that's really exciting for such a small place," Trotter said. "I see so much hope and goodness here."

Blytheville Mayor James Sanders credited the citizens for the award.

"Blytheville is great because of its people," Sanders said. "The thing about it is, the population here has been unsung heroes for so many years in the things that they do."

What makes the recognition even more special is that includes a wide range of organizations, the mayor said.

"It's not just one particular group," Sanders said. "It's the Arkansas Volunteer Community. This is not an individualized award; this award goes to all of the citizens of the city of Blytheville. And it identifies the fact that we do have what we said we have. We have some of the greatest people in the state living right here, that are willing to give their time, their money and everything else to see that Blytheville is great."

One of the big contributors to getting the award was the Cleaner, Safer Blytheville initiative.

A DVD of the September 2011 cleanup accompanied the application, showing hundreds of volunteers cleaning up an area in the west end of town.

Sanders commended Councilmen John Musgraves and Stan Parks for getting the churches involved and reaching out to Blytheville's industrial base.

Musgraves thanked Trotter for gathering the data and submitting it and Ritter Communication, along with Sudbury Broadcasting's Mike Lester, for the DVD.

"We tend not to recognize the good things we do ourselves," Sanders said. "This only bolsters what we've said. Somebody, outside, has recognized the goodness of what it is. I want to think Ms. Trotter for helping us compile all of the information and put it together and submit it and we look forward to greater things next year."

Musgraves added: "We want to thank all the volunteer agencies that made this possible."

The application said the city is faced with financial crisis, population changes and negative impacts on its youth, but Blytheville has come together to overcome its challenges.

"It is through our vibrant and dedicated volunteers and leadership that Blytheville is rapidly becoming the best small community in the region," the application reads. "It is our joint hope and belief that the future is bright."

The report notes volunteer activities for the betterment of the community include the Great River Charitable Clinic, childhood and adult literacy programs, free health fairs, a quality museum free to the public, a food pantry and homeless and domestic abuse shelters.

"Both private and corporate volunteers work together to improve our downtown by maintaining planting boxes and cleaning up neglected areas throughout the city. Over 2,281 volunteers have donated 31,081.5 hours to the above activities," the application says. "Our Chamber, Main Street Blytheville, community college, corporations and Lights of the Delta provide a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for citizens to become involved in business development, entertainment, civic involvement and charity causes; thereby, building a better future for Blytheville and its residents. 1,137 volunteers invested 18,966 hours to these causes."

The report notes more than 1,954 volunteers have dedicated 86,060 hours to providing Blytheville's youth with opportunities to participate in activities ranging from football, softball, baseball and scholarship pageants. "This number represents only a small fraction of volunteer hours and events available to our youth. Our youth are a critical part of Blytheville's future."

Its says Blytheville has a "dynamic church community" that serves the area with cash assistance, counseling, food assistance, youth activities and more.

"Although Blytheville is small, our heart is big," the application reads. "Our residents are willing to roll up their sleeves, come together and look to the future."