The cooperative efforts and programs of the Monette Housing Authority and Buffalo Island Central West Elementary School have attracted the attention of the seven state Southwest Region of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO).
For 15 years the two agencies have joined forces to provide many on-going service projects that have included Soup for Senior Citizens, Back to School with Love (school supplies), National Night Out, Red Ribbon Week, DARE program, Christmas baskets, downtown Halloween treats, drug awareness carnivals, Veterans Day programs, teacher recognition, food bank and FEMA fund distributions, and Head Start and literacy programs.
Though the list of co-sponsored programs is lengthy and some of the results truly amazing, the two programs cited for regional recognitions were "A Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On": (1) earthquake and disaster preparedness and (2) physical fitness program. Motivated by a series of earthquakes that literally "rocked the house" in January 2005 and concerned about the sedentary lifestyle of rural residents, the two programs were developed and their success spread far beyond the boundaries of MHA and BIC West.
Living on the New Madrid Fault and the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina served to remind MHA Executive Director Barbara Suber of how unprepared this region might be in the face of a natural disaster. A plan was devised for BIC West to collect items for basic earthquake (disaster) survival kits. Each kit included a sealed storage container, a gallon of water, antibacterial wipes, a first aid kit, a can opener, a flashlight and batteries, and a laminated information sheet.
Just before Christmas break, the student body of BIC West traveled by bus to the office of Monette Housing Authority to distribute one kit to each apartment. A great time caroling and visiting was enjoyed. The community room of the MHA was transformed into a winter wonderland and the students were treated to cookies, cider and hot chocolate, and candy canes as a reward for their generosity.
The uniqueness of the physical fitness program in the Monette Housing Authority was a response to the fact that although Arkansas has become a lead state in health awareness, opportunities for indoor exercise in rural Arkansas are limited or non-existent.
With the vision of offering an exercise program to the community, particularly the senior citizens with sedentary lifestyles contributing to the decline of their overall health, a call went out to BIC West to locate exercise equipment and an instructor. Soon a treadmill was donated by one of the teachers and another part-time employee of the school district became the instructor.
The original program was designed as "armchair fitness" that anyone could perform in a seated position, even those that were wheelchair-bound. As the interest and fitness of the participants grew the program was expanded to three days each week and more equipment and difficult video workouts were provided. The well-equipped exercise room grew to include a Gazelle, stationary bicycle, exercise bands, weights, steppers, ab-lounger, dance pad, and mini trampoline. The results of the exercise program were immeasurable, particularly for the health benefits and the fellowship and camaraderie enjoyed. The exercise program is now located in the Senior Citizens Center.
Mrs. Suber and Dr. Kima Stewart, principal of BIC West, traveled to the Southwest Regional Summer Conference held in June in Lafayette, La., to receive the Special Achievement Service Award. When accepting the award, Dr. Stewart addressed the audience to encourage other housing authority and school partnerships.
"It is such an honor to receive this prestigious award and I accept this on behalf of the faculty, students, and their families at BIC West Elementary," Stewart said. "So many contributed to these worthy projects and their donations have made them possible; we look forward to continuing our cooperative service projects in the future."