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CSA Finalist: Donna Grinder

Searcy County woman leads effort to help people with special needs.

ST. JOE, AR -  Friends say of all of her qualities, passion is the one that stands out the most. Her passion inspires others in the community to believe that change can happen.

"It started with a personal story," says Community Service Award Finalist Donna Grinder. "It took me 23 years to say that my daughter was handicapped."

Donna Grinder's vision was inspired by her own daughter and the personal struggle of finding resources and enrolling in disability from rural Arkansas.

"It shouldn't have to be so hard to get assistance," says Grinder. "It shouldn't have to be so hard to travel to find out where to get help, how to get it or what you need to do. God just laid it on my heart to do something about it," she explains.

Donna recognized a need in her community and set out to make a difference.

"She had a dream," says Ozark Opportunities Executive Director Toby Atkinson. "She followed that dream and started talking to the community about it."

"We had our first meeting in 2010 in my home," says Grinder. "I just called a group of like minded citizens who wanted to change the situation and we just all started working together."

Now that dream has become a reality. In 2012 the Searcy County Rural Help Center opened it's doors in St. Joe in an old church building donated for only a dollar.

"Our goal was if we could change one life, then we've succeeded," says Grinder.

Since its grand opening, the SCRHC has provided a crucial link between the people of St. Joe and other service organizations.

The center now has a thrift shop inside, as well as donated computers with internet access for adult computer education classes and GED and job training.

There is a small library for adults, a larger children's library and a paperback exchange.

"It's a benefit because they can get some services through here without traveling," says St. Joe Mayor John Henley.

"It's all there is really as far as helping people," says Atkinson. "Marshall is the next nearest town. It's about 10-15 miles away. So, if people need a place to go, this is it."

Friends say every spare moment she has, Donna has poured her heart and soul into the help center working and writing grants that have financially funded the center and made it the success that it is today.

"Donna is the type of person who doesn't take no for an answer," says Atkinson. "She is actually an everyday hero because she took the time and she put in the energy and actually made something happen which is a rarity."

"It was I, but it takes a tremendous amount of courage for our board to follow a vision," says Grinder. "We wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for the calling in my life."
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