Volunteer Community of the Year: Municipal League names Eureka Springs 1 of 8 award recipients
By Samantha Jones
The Arkansas Municipal League is recognizing volunteerism in Eureka Springs.
Municipal league representative Sheila Boyd said Eureka Springs is one of eight cities to be named the 2019 Volunteer Community of the Year, with the awards being given out at the municipal league's winter conference in Little Rock on Feb. 13.
The award recognizes outstanding volunteerism, community service work and response to community needs completed by ECHO Village and the Mayor's Task Force on Economic Development. It is co-sponsored by the Office of the Governor, the Governor's Advisory Commission on National Service and Volunteerism, Arkansas Municipal League and Engage Arkansas/AmeriCoprs.
Mayor Butch Berry said the award speaks to the type of people that live in Eureka Springs, especially Dan and Suzie Bell. The Bells have worked hard to develop ECHO Village, Berry said, to provide affordable housing for those in need.
"They got all the volunteers together from various churches and organizations," Berry said. "We've had so many different volunteers that came in to help build ECHO Village. This award is just another comment on who we can pull together to get something accomplished."
Dan Bell said Berry is one of those volunteers. Berry has volunteered his time as the main architect of the project, Dan Bell said. Suzie Bell described how the project has progressed over the past two years, saying 10 of 26 homes have been built. As soon as a home is ready for occupants, Suzie Bell said, people move in. Dan Bell said they received 60 applications for the first eight houses and 20 applications for the last two.
"We have to look through these applications and figure out who we can impact the most," he said. "Almost every day, someone else will come by and ask how to get in on one of the homes. We're still taking applications. There's a huge need for this in our area."
Suzie Bell agreed.
"There's just a housing crisis across the state of Arkansas," she said.
Berry said the issue affects everyone in Carroll County.
"We just don't have the affordable housing here, not only in Eureka but in Berryville and Green Forest," Berry said. "This is a great example of a project that could work not only in Eureka but in other cities."
Suzie Bell said the project wouldn't be possible without the help of volunteers. From the moment construction began, she said, large groups came to Eureka Springs to show their support. Dedicated local volunteers like Dee Rude have worked through the winter to make the homes a reality, Suzie Bell said, long before electric was installed.
"We didn't have any power, so we didn't have any heat," Suzie Bell said. "It was difficult. We were dealing with some awful mud and muck. It had rained a lot. It was very, very hard, but Dee was here. She was phenomenal. She came in and gave so much of her time."
Another important volunteer, Dan Bell said, is Bob Christian. Bob Christian lived and worked in Eureka Springs for years, Dan Bell said, before moving to Hot Springs. But when he heard about ECHO Village, Dan Bell said, Christian brought crews to help build the homes.
"He's shown up a dozen times and spent a week just working," Dan Bell said.
Suzie Bell said there are many more volunteers that have helped with the project –– too many to name.
"We're very proud of this community," she said. "You can't do it without that support. We're taking care of our brothers and sisters."
The project would be easy to replicate in other communities, Suzie Bell said, where affordable housing is a problem. She said she's spoken with Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney about doing something similar there.
"It can be duplicated so easily," she said.
Chuck Jarrett, who runs A Cup of Love Ministry, said he's seen the affect ECHO Village has had on the community.
"We're blessed to live in a town that comes together to help out," Jarrett said. "It's amazing. I'm sure no other community of 2,000 people is anything like this town."
Berry agreed, saying he's honored to be the mayor of a community that focuses so heavily on volunteerism.
"This is a reflection on the whole community," Berry said. "I'm just so excited we were able to get this award."