The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Wins Award for Community Work in the Delta

Posted on December 09, 2009 at 01:41 PM

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Together for Hope Rural Poverty Initiative is doing great work in the Delta, and they received much-deserved recognition on December 6, 2009, when Ben and Leonora Newell of the CBF program in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas received the Brooks Hays Award from Second Baptist Church in Little Rock. This is a prestigious award named after Congressman Brooks Hays, who served with distinction in Congress for many years and became famous for his stand in favor of racial justice during Gov. Orval Faubus’ demagogy in the Little Rock Central High crisis of the late 1950s.

Ben and Leonora Newell have been leading the CBF initiative in Helena-West Helena since 2002, as part of the CBF Together for Hope Rural Poverty Initiative in the 20 poorest counties in the USA as of 2002. They have led the initiative in Helena-West Helena across socio-economic, political, racial and denominational lines with churches, local leaders, children, families and a broad spectrum of organizations. They led a variety of community activities in which 12 churches in Helena-West Helena, 11 churches in Arkansas, 50 churches outside Arkansas, 25 college interns, and many local residents were involved.

Ben and Leonora Newell have dedicated themselves to promoting a brighter future for the important Delta community of Helena-West Helena. Previous recipients of the Brooks Hays Award included former US Senator Dale Bumpers, Little Rock community activist Annie Abrams, former Arkansas Gazette Editorial Director James O. Powell, founder of the Arkansas CBF Dr. Tom Logue, and many other distinguished individuals.

The Sunday, December 6, 2009 service at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock focused on the CBF work in Helena-West Helena, with CBF of Arkansas Director Ray Higgins, Second Baptist pastor Matt Cook, and others involved in work in Helena-West Helena taking part in a panel discussion about the community development work there. Many of us were introduced to Catherine Bahn, the new assistant director of Together for Hope Arkansas at this service. Ms. Bahn is a graduate of Arkansas State University and has been active in community work in Helena-West Helena for a long time now and we look forward to working with her and the Newells in the future.

We have often emphasized that we would like to see the big cities in the eight-state Greater Delta Region like Little Rock, Memphis, Baton Rouge, Jackson and New Orleans see themselves as an integral part of the region. Second Baptist Church in Little Rock certainly deserves praise for its many activities in the Delta, and it was unusual to go to an event in Little Rock that was focused on our colleagues in the heart of the Delta. Jim Maloch, Jesse Eisenhart and many others at Second Baptist Church have devoted a great deal of volunteer work in Helena-West Helena and we greatly appreciate their concern for the region.

Among the long list of distinguished accomplishments by the Newells and the other colleagues of CBF in Helena-West Helena, here are some examples:

–For the Helena Community Center, 300 volunteers donated 12,000 hours for a total of $120,000 in free labor, with an additional $70,000 contribution from the city. For the Helena Community Gardens, 1,000 volunteers donated 15,000 hours of labor, while another 500 volunteers donated 5,000 hours for the West Helena Community Gardens. There have also been $25,000 in donations for the new Gardens of Eden Market Place located on the bypass in West helena, which will house 10 entrepreneurs, with six of them food-related and four product-related, including the Delta Jewels and the Ed Wade Art Studio (Ed Wade is pastor of New Light Missionary Baptist Church).

–For the Helena pool house, pavilion and pump house and tennis courts, 475 volunteers contributed 12,400 hours, with $49,000 in donations and $25,000 contributed from the city. These improvements involved building a new pool house, the conversion of the old pool house into a pavilion, and a pump house.

–For assistance to the New Light Missionary Baptist Church, 700 volunteers contributed 15,000 hours of labor, and donations totaled $800,000. Particularly noteworthy is the work done for this church, and Ray Higgins of CBF Arkansas passed along to us this summary:

–“Building a new 14,000 square foot worship and educational facility for New Light Missionary Baptist Church took three years. The effort was led by Russell Miller, a builder from Mountain Home and a deacon in First Baptist Mountain Home and a member of CBFAR’s Coordinating Council, and Harold Duncan, retired school superintendent, principal, educator and trustee of NLMBC in Helena. These two men worked together to recruit volunteers for labor, materials and equipment that total about $800,000. Many volunteers worked on the church over the three year period driving from all parts of the state and coming from other states.
Russell Miller made an average of 3 to 4 trips per week from Mountain Home and other parts of the state to Helena over the three year period to oversee and organize the project in conjunction with Harold Duncan. It was an incredible commitment of vision and dedication. The church is located one block from the new facilities built by the KIPP Charter School in downtown Helena. Rev. Ed Wade is pastor of NLMBC.”

–20 single-family homes have been repaired with over $8,000 in donations.

–A $60,000 bus was donated by First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama for the Stories on Wheels initiative aimed at addressing literacy in Phillips and Lee counties in Arkansas.

–For the Delta Christmas project, 600 books for children, Christmas gifts, gloves and coats, and 200 kids were served each year for the past four years at a value of $16,000

–The Delta Jewels initiative involves 10 girls who create jewels with the help of five adult mentors. They have sold over $25,000 in products for young people in Helena-West Helena, generating income for those who badly need it and teaching them productive work habits and skills in the process.

–A total of over $1 million was donated and over 3,000 people volunteered to work in Helena-West Helena.

–The Delta Grassroots Caucus disseminates information about successful models of community development across the region, and the CBF accomplishments in Helena-West Helena are certainly a great example of the good that is being done in our region. We all know about the continuing problems of poverty in the Delta, but along with focusing attention on the dilemma of our region it is also well to recognize those who are working for a brighter future; let’s “find the good and praise it.”

For more information about CBF of Arkansas’ work in the Delta contact Dr. Ray Higgins at or (501) 223-8586.

Thanks very much–Lee Powell, director, MDGC (202) 360-6347