New nonprofit for White County

Dr. Andrew Baker (from left), executive director of the office of community connection at Harding University, Mischa Martin, director of the state Division of Children and Family Services, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Dana Baker, area coordinator of White County 100 Families, look at plans for the program during the governor’s recent visit to Searcy to give his then-daily COVID-19 news briefing at Unity Health-White County Medical Center.

A new nonprofit in White County geared toward getting “100 families involved” in a “program that involves stopping incarceration, reducing recidivism and helping reduce the number of foster care children” had more than 100 lined up before it even got kicked off, according to Renie Rule, community engagement director for the organization.

White County 100 Families launched officially Thursday afternoon in the Administration Auditorium at Harding University, but Rule said it had already exceeded its initial goal, with 108 families.

“Obviously the need is there; now we are going for our second 100 families,” she said. “That 100 families translates into 247 children involved. So it really is the family we are working with to get the family settled down and out of crisis and to be a good neighbor in Searcy or in White County.”

Rule said all three of the nonprofit’s aims are “tied into our justice system” since “there is a direct correlation between when a mother and father goes to prison then one of the children goes into foster care.”

“What our work does is we take 100 families and we surround them with 40 agencies and it’s all connected with this one computer program,” she said. “It would be housing, addiction, education, anything that they need – a job, transportation, license, all of those things that are huge to go from crisis to stability and then ultimately to career.”

Rule said the way the organization makes connections with these families is by going into communities. Sebastian County was the first area 100 Families went to, and White County is the second.

As an example of the work the nonprofit does, Rule said if a family was facing eviction from a home, a case worker would go in and help them figure out how they could keep the house, maybe pay $5 a week more and get caught up rather than just get in the car and go away from the house. The organization does the same thing when it comes to court appearances. Rule said some are terrified to go back into court because of what has happened in there in the past so they skip court and “make things worse.”

Unfortunately as the initial numbers show, Rule said, it is pretty easy to find 100 families that need this kind of help. Anyone that is coming out of prison usually goes into the parole system, she said, so they are there for those who would like to have some help.

“They want help; they don’t want to do back to prison,” Rule said. “Let’s say they have been in prison 20 years and they say, ‘You get out tomorrow; you need to call Jack in the parole office, he is down on 3rd Street.’ You don’t know who the [expletive] Jack is. You don’t know where the courthouse is or you only have 30 dollars in your pocket.

“Many of the people released have been gone so far from the outside world, they don’t know. It’s not laziness as much as lack of knowledge. We come in and put these 40 agencies around the person and they help them by helping find Jack’s office by giving them Jack’s full name, like Jack Taylor, and matter of fact, ‘I will go with you. I’m not going to do any talking for you but I will go with you.’ It’s the same way with court.”

Ninety-percent of the nonprofit’s clients have had their driver’s licenses suspended. “Driving around on a suspended license, they go through a stop sign and they are going back to prison,” Rule said.

She said thanks to the governor, there is a program where the nonprofit can look up every person and see every thing from a DWI in Colorado to speeding down in Florida.

“Then we have a group of lawyers who go one by one to different courthouses and give updates on the clients; for example, someone maybe going to GED classes, parenting classes or taking a safety course in driving. The lawyer would then request the judge reduce a particular fine so they could pay an affordable amount, like five dollars per week and they would slowly get a chance to drive to work again and they could take children to school again,” Rule said. “It takes so much stress off of them.”

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