Independence County needs foster homes ASAP

An average day in Independence County sees 58 to 70 children in the foster care program, while the average number of available foster homes here is only 13.

There is good news in the foster care world: Statewide, the foster care system has improved, according to a recent address by Governor Asa Hutchinson. 

Unfortunately though, in Independence County the situation is still urgent. 

An average day in Independence County sees 58 to 70 children in the foster care program, while the average number of available foster homes here is only 13.

“When I took office in 2015, our child-welfare and foster-care system was in urgent need of improvement,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson wrote in an October report. At that time a review of the child-welfare and foster-care system was ordered, with dire findings. “It was a heart-rending judgment on our shortcomings,” the governor recalled of that initial starting point.

“I was especially alarmed to learn that caseworkers sometimes had to choose between taking children to their own homes, leaving the children at a division office, or pleading with foster parents to make room for one more child,” Hutchinson said.

After three years of work, the foster care emergency has drastically improved, according to the governor who noted one example of a caseworker whose average case load decreased from 85 to 15 under the leadership of Mischa Martin at the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). He called the progress a restoration of hope, extending a special thanks to the private sector faith-based organizations that have played a huge role by partnering with DCFS to recruit more foster and adoptive families.

The CALL is one such faith-based organization, and perhaps the most impactful.

It has created a streamlined system of recruiting and approving foster/adoptive families so the process is both quicker and easier. By signing up through The CALL, families are able to condense the lengthy training modules from 6+ months, down to two intensive weekends.

The CALL opened 214 new foster homes in Arkansas in 2018 and 82 new adoptive homes, according to its annual report. Families recruited by The CALL adopted 184 children out of foster care statewide last year.

And it is the Independence County chapter of The CALL that hopes it can change the situation in Independence County.

“The CALL started in Independence County in 2014, and for a couple of years it was going really strong,” explained Rodney Stroud, new director of the local chapter, attributing the initial progress to then-director Summer Sudol. “There were about 17 to 20 families at one time.”

After the loss of the director though, Stroud says the chapter basically went dormant. A renewed effort last October succeeded in bringing on a new 7-person leadership team, including Stroud. During the year that followed, the tide has shifted.

“There were 3 CALL families when we started and now we have 7 foster families, 6 (more) in the process of becoming approved homes, and 2 more with paperwork out,” Stroud said. “We think we need about 35 families (average of 2 per home), so we’re almost halfway there.”

Stroud said that although a good handful of people stepped up to lead, a few key leadership and volunteer positions still need to be filled. Aside from that, the main needs are “fundraising and families”.

There are currently about 70 kids in foster care from Independence County, and many of them have nowhere to go.

The extreme shortage of foster homes means Independence County children are often sent to other counties for temporary placement, leaving behind their schools, friends, teachers, in addition to their parents with whom they are allowed visits. The periodic court dates involved in the foster process are also held in the case’s originating county.

When the children are placed in homes outside the county, the distance and frequent trips can create a hardship on everyone involved.

As the director of The CALL, Stroud hears many reasons not to foster. The most common: The fear of a painful goodbye when children leave their care.

“It absolutely does hurt,” Stroud said, “but when you think about it, that’s selfish. That’s making our comfort more important than these children’s needs.”

For more information on donating, volunteering, or signing up as a foster/adoptive family through The CALL, text or call 870-612-4904 or visit https://thecallinarkansas.org/independence/.

The state’s Division of Children and Family Services, which oversees all foster care, recently released this infographic to help put the agency’s shortages in perspective.

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At Cushman, school = community

CUSHMAN — It’s a cold and drizzly Saturday morning, yet nearly a dozen residents have gathered in the small and cozy library watching Becky Wood bounce around, voice rising and falling, as she animatedly reads a book to the children who have come for storytime.

The library has only been open for a week. It is somewhat of an experiment in a community whose close-knit threads unraveled ten years ago.

“I was librarian here at the school for 35 years,” Wood explains after storytime. “And some of these mommas heard me read when they were kids, and they wanted their kids to hear, too.”

Indeed, there they were, a handful of former Cushman students, now moms, attempting to carry on the traditions of their youth and community with their own kids. But Wood admits that efforts at carrying on community are just that — efforts.

Community doesn’t just happen naturally anymore, since the school was lost to consolidation in 2009.

The mood in the community afterwards: “Depressed,” Wood says.

“You know you go through all those grief emotions — being mad, being disappointed. It was overwhelming… Still. Still it’s hard.”

A 130-YEAR LEGACY LOST

Cushman had its own school since 1880, then first just a one-room log cabin. ​

At that time is was a mining town. One Detroit newspaper described it as “the town that thrives on war” because of its importance in shipping out the materials that fueled the military during WWI and WWII. Originally called Minersville, an explosion that killed a miner set off a chain of events that cause the whole town to shift about a mile south and change its name sometime between 1886 and 1889 to Cushman.

The train was called the Cushman Local; it had a turntable that it stayed on overnight, and went out the next morning, hauling out both materials as well as residents on the passenger car. The town was complete with a depot, hotel, stores, churches, and Odd Fellows Hall, and more. ​

In 1900 an improved schoolhouse was built on “Germany Hill” in town, and was reportedly a nice structure of two stories with a bell tower. Eventually that location gave way to the “Little Red School House” built on the modern campus’s current location. Buildings were added, remodeled, and improved along the way, at least up until the 2000s. ​

ACT 60

In 2004, the Arkansas State Legislature passed Act 60, an aggressive and blanket move to close all schools under 350 enrollees, regardless of student test performance, community engagement, or other wellness metrics.

Around 120 school districts fell victim to the legislation. Cushman was one of them.

“Our campus was in such good shape. Our test scores were excellent. But we were down (that year) about 3 to 4 kids in numbers, so they closed it,” Wood remembers. “It was heartbreaking.”

Students and teachers scattered to Melbourne, Mount Pleasant, Cave City, Batesville, and Southside. Wood recalls few felt at home again after that. And she unfortunately had to go through the process twice: she went on to become the librarian at the Mount Pleasant Elementary School, which was merged into the Melbourne Elementary campus in 2016.

“The feeling of being a family, of being part of something, was not there… It was really really hard on our kids.”

A review of a decade of consolidation conducted by the University of Arkansas revealed that consolidation disproportionately targeted low-income communities, rural communities, and the Northeast Arkansas region as a whole (a total of 71 school closures, more than any other region).

The same review acknowledged the consolidation was guilty of closing some of Arkansas’s highest performing schools (again, often in Northeast Arkansas), noting:

“Five (currently at-risk) districts boasted better proficiency rates in all three subjects of the benchmark. The five districts are Calico Rock, Concord, Norfork, Weiner, and Viola.”

Cushman was a similar story, as was the neighboring Mount Pleasant School District: both high-performing schools, both close-knit central hubs to the rural communities they served.

HOPE RETURNS. SO DO THE SCHOOL GROUNDS.

Last year the Batesville School District, which inherited all of Cushman’s school assets during the consolidation, turned the school grounds back over to the community that built it.

With the return of the school, signs of life are popping up in the community once more. The city itself occupies part of a building as a town hall. Woods’s new little library is situated just down the hall, and so is a food pantry. On the site of the former ballfield is a new fire station under construction.

The local community center hosts Bingo and lunch for seniors on Tuesdays, and the Cushman Heritage Museum holds genealogy records for dozens of families, as well as other records spanning back to the 1800s.

The museum also recently bought back the old bell from the Germany Hill schoolhouse, and has plans to move from its current cramped space to a larger accomodation — within the returned school.

“I have a friend who is also a retired librarian and she’s been helping — she found us a catalog program that we were able to get,” Wood describes excitedly as the morning’s storytime visitors check out their books and catch up with neighbors they haven’t see in years.

“And as soon as the city gets Wi-Fi in this building the catalog will be able to be online,” Wood continues, adding that they’re expecting a donation of 3 computers soon.

“We’ve changed our hours around trying to find the best time. Tuesday we’re open 9 (a.m.) – 3 (p.m.) because that’s the day the food pantry is open, so people come in for that and can come to the library at the same time. And we changed our hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays so kids can come in after school.”

But as the locals visit and gradually disperse, one conversation between neighbors soon turns to how their young family has sold their house and will be moving to Batesville.

After all, it’s closer to the school where their children go.

How to do plant-based eating in Batesville

Danielle Adams has been eating a plant-based diet for two years and during that time, has discovered a few tips for doing so in Batesville.

“Ethnic food restaurants are my best bets. American-style food is really difficult to eat,” she said. “Thai is the easiest,” she added, explaining that while she is normally limited to one or two items on the menu, at a Thai restaurant, she can order nearly anything on the menu since the creamy items are made with coconut milk and she can add tofu for the protein.

Batesville currently does not have a Thai restaurant of course, but it does have Mexican restaurants. Adams said she and her family were regulars at El Palenque before she went plant-based and still go there after. She said she and the restaurant owner worked together to find a dish to fit her new lifestyle. 

“He was asking questions, and because I speak Spanish, I asked all sorts of questions. He was genuinely intrigued.”

She now orders veggie fajitas with corn tortillas (and sometimes refried beans). 

The Trend

Adams is not alone in her quest. 

Because of the growing need for more protein sources to address the food gap (amount of food being produced verses the amount needed), as well as perceived environmental and health concerns, a growing number of consumers are turning to plants for their 46 grams (adult female) of protein per day.

“The demand for dietary protein…is projected to increase by more than 50 percent by 2030, compared to 2000,” Anne Pihlanto, PhD, food chemistry scientist of Natural Resources, explained at the International Conference on Food Chemistry and Nutrition.

Pihlanto says the reason plants have been underutilized for protein is because of their lower nutritional value and poor solubility in water.

However, now, at two-thirds of the way into the projected growth period, plant-based foods are showing more than 11 percent yearly growth in sales, with plant-based milks contributing significantly to the growth, per a July 2019 report by SPINS, one of the leading wellness-focused data researchers.

Large companies are jumping on the plant-based wagon, too, offering new vegan and vegetarian options. 

Disney added a plant-based option to every one of their dining locations in Walt Disney World in October and plans to do the same in Disneyland this spring, to accommodate the growing number of vegan customers. In September, McDonalds announced it was testing a plant-based burger in Canada.

Also in September, Tyson Foods announced its investment in a plant-based shellfish company. This was preceded by General Mills investing in D’s Naturals, maker of plant-based protein bars and spreads, in early 2017, and Dean Foods Co. taking a minority stake in Good Karma Foods, a flaxseed-based milk alternative mid-2017.

The Problem

Batesville-native Adams says there is a difference between eating a plant-based diet and eating a nutritious plant-based diet. 

In high school, she tried to eat “vegetarian,” but did not replace the meat with other protein sources, which caused other health concerns. 

And one of the forms of plant-based proteins producers have tried offering, plant-based meat, has been criticized as highly processed, high in sodium, and high in fat; therefore, not any healthier than animal-based meat. However, some argue it can serve to transition interested consumers away from a meat-heavy diet. 

Adams started eating plant-based protein to lose weight. She now chooses it as a lifestyle and educates herself by reading books and watching documentaries, and she receives motivation and support from her interactions within plant-based Facebook groups.

She also participates in a local farm share offered by a partnership between Five Acre Farms and Real Goods Market Eatery. Five Acre Farms, in Pleasant Plains, is a Certified Naturally Grown farm, which means it does not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or GMOs. To read more about Five Acre Farms, click here. Real Goods Market Eatery is a local health food market located in the old Radio Shack building across from Bryant’s Pharmacy. Five Acre Farms brings baskets full of fresh produce every Tuesday at 2 p.m. to Real Goods Market Eatery where customers can pick them up.

Real Goods owner Paige Hubbard (pictured above) has a Rainbow Wrap on her regular lunch menu and will sometimes offer a weekly special with a plant-based protein, like quinoa.

Other Certified Naturally Grown farms in the area are Brood Farm and Stewart Produce, both located in Cave City.

For the most part, Adams still has trouble going to restaurants in town for a specific reason. 

“I am not a send-it-backer,” she said laughing, calling it a quirk.  Not wanting to be different means making a lot of compromises when eating out. 

“I miss 109 terribly,” she said.

(109 is an upscale bar and fine dining restaurant located in downtown Batesville, owned by Robert and Beth Christian. It has been closed for updates for eight months, since March 2019.)

“I could go and get the veggie burger, carrots and hummus, and eat 100 percent plant based and feel great about everything I was eating, and I did not have to order anything special. It was the one meal in town I would not have to order extra.”

Odd

“Actually, it’s more than ambivalence about being different — it’s embracing being different.”

I was always kind of an oddball growing up. It was a rural community, hard and tough. Sports reigned supreme. Petite and blonde was admired.  I was a bleeding heart book nerd with a big ole mop of frizzy curly hair. It was also the 90s which meant waif-y cool girls were all over the T.V. going along with whatever their boyfriends said. I had no boyfriend, ever. And I didn’t go along with whatever, ever. Far too many opinions and dreams, that one, they said…


In my 20s my headspace of feeling out of place continued for the most part. I had a lot more fun as I found my voice and freedom, but still I tended to look to my right and left and find very few kindred spirits. 


Somewhere in your 30s though, you somehow stop caring don’t you? Actually, it’s more than ambivalence about being different — it’s embracing being different. Maybe it’s the fact that you’ve bounced back from more than a few giant failures and realized that you can survive it. Maybe it’s motherhood that not only makes you too tired to care and gives you a daily dose of humility in the form of wiping butts and being on the receiving end of toddler brutal honesty, but also gives you a daily gut check of perspective on what really matters. Maybe it’s that fewer and fewer people give you those double-take wowza eyes anymore, as your face increasingly wrinkles and your waist thickens — and that fact makes you feel a little invisible but also a little free. Maybe it’s that you’ve learned and experienced a *hella* lot, and you rest comfortably confident in your own abilities now. Maybe it’s the realization that actually everyone has at some point suffered from their own unique brand of different.


Maybe it’s all that. Maybe it’s none of that. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s you, too. 


At any rate, I’m still the oddball in a lot (most?) settings, at least in my own mind. But now I take some degree of pride, or at least ease, in that because I have seen enough years to know that those oddball things about me have actually worked to my advantage and surprisingly, made me uniquely suited to many adventures. The Oddfellow, this blog, is the next one. And if ever there was an odd fellow, it’s me. Maybe there are others out there and they’ll find a place here, too. Let the adventure begin.

About The Oddfellow…

The Oddfellow is a mostly a group of displaced recovering journalists hell-bent on forcing our craft even if the world doesn’t much like newspaper types anymore. We’ve got a few columnists, creative writers, and historians hanging around the place too.

We don’t promise it’ll all be good. But it will be local, if nothing else. And hopefully — heaven help us — anything but boring.

About our name

In the early 1800’s, as Batesville was first founded and began to grow, a society called the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was formed to serve the many needs in the community. Over the years the motley group of everyday working folks cared for the community through charitable acts: taking care of the poor, housing widows, and most notably, constructing a beautiful orphanage. The structure sat on the hillside in West Side where an elementary is now located.

While The Oddfellow is not affiliated with the original chapter of the I.O.O.F, the name “oddfellow” was picked as an homage to this group of people who once roamed the dirt streets of Batesville.

Writers and other generally odd people welcome…

If you are a writer (or a photographer, or a videographer, or a podcaster), we’d like to find a spot for you here.

Email OFBatesville@gmail.com to inquire.