October 16, 2014
Taking it to the streets.
A new publication, aimed to deliver accurate information about the wide variety of assistance and support-service programs available in Little Rock and throughout Pulaski County, came hot off the presses for its debut distribution on Wednesday, October 15, 2014.
Bannering the title: “Help YourSelf: Community Resources Directory,” the 24-page full color newspaper is filled with what appear at first glance to be classified ads, but are actually hundreds of listings of self-help opportunities, from food pantries and free clothing for job interviews, to computer literacy, employment training, substance abuse recovery, elder-care services, housing assistance, legal aid, transportation, and health care.
Brainchild of Robert Kim Combs, 59, a resident of Arkansas’s capitol city since October of 2008, Combs first started researching and freely distributing a forerunner directory as a plain text document in 2009. That ‘first edition’ was only a few pages and listed resources for the homeless such as food pantries. He handed it out free, directly to people in need.
Within a year, his work caught the eye of social workers, parole officers and healthcare providers, who started asking for copies because of the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the listings.
“The good-works groups who provide these services are rather fluid,” Combs explained. “Locations and hours of operation frequently change. And it is not unusual for qualifying criteria with various government programs to change. For any directory to have value, it has to be updated frequently,” he affirmed. “So I began issuing semi-annual directories in 2010, which I then called The Compassion Resources Directory for Little Rock and Pulaski County.”
By January of 2014, Comb’s little home-office-copied MSWord handout had grown to 80+ pages, indexing hundreds of organizations and service providers in need-specific categories. “The cost of sharing this information had grown astronomically,” Combs confessed.
While he was freely distributing the document electronically in PDF format and it was being eagerly shared on the Internet, he was continually inundated with requests for printed volumes, which he also gave out for free.
“I was not set-up to produce enough copies at home, so I was taking the manuscript to a printer and having copies bound,” he explained. However, the costs associated with this type of publication made it impossible for him to routinely hand out the directory directly to those people who needed it most.
“When I first got off the bus in Little Rock, six years ago this month, I was alone, struggling, lost and homeless,” Combs recalled his probationary release from a 5-year federal prison sentence. “My 25-year career as a museum professional and adjunct history professor was unlikely to resume. Former colleagues scorned me, prospective employers turned me away the moment that they saw that the ‘prior felony conviction’ box was checked on my application. It took me 6-months and hundreds of applications before I finally found work as a dishwasher. And it was many more months of living in a homeless shelter before I could afford a small apartment and get a second-hand car.”
“Still, I found meals, food, shelter, clothing, employment assistance and encouragement at every turn,” he affirmed. “Most especially from my federal probation officer, Tabitha Mitchell. She was like an angel, guiding the way for me to get back on my feet. And as I recovered, I made up my mind to find a way to ‘give back’ some small measure of the compassion I had been given. That’s when I started thinking about what would have been most useful to me when I was struggling, troubled, lost and alone.”
“So now, with this premier edition of Help YourSelf, I have made the leap back to my original intent: putting valuable information directly in the hands of those who need it most,” Combs, who will address the role of publications like his in community service on October 25 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock’s ‘Poverty, Part 1: Homelessness’ program, said.
Still, the jump from a plain text document to a newspaper publication is Olympian and Combs credited colleague Christine Beems, 65, of Shirley, Arkansas, and the longtime editor/publisher of gozarks.com, as “The one person who has made it possible to put this directory on the street.”
Beems, who is a full partner with Combs in their Help YourSelf Publishing company, contributes the formatting, graphic design, editorial and advertising-business management skill requisite to converting good ideas to print.
Both have been working the project pro-bono, covering costs to publish and distribute the debut edition themselves, though they hope that their combined efforts will encourage more advertisers to understand the value of reaching this unusual demographic once word of the venture and its mission gets out.
In addition to the resource listings, the new publication features informative articles on topics relevant to community well-being. The debut edition explores ideas about the practice of restorative justice and the reentry challenges faced by those transitioning out of prison.
“Everyone is very excited now to see 20,000 copies of this directory out on the street,” said Beems who, as did Combs, spent Wednesday delivering bundles of the free publication to local thrift stores, community centers, and business establishments.
As of Thursday, October 16, the publication was readily available at dozens of Little Rock locations, including the CALS Main Library, Harmony Health Clinic, Talecris Plasma Resources, Jericho Way, KABF 88.3 radio, the Little Rock City Hall (ask at Front Desk), Little Rock Salvation Army, Abbey Road and the Parthenon (smoke shops), the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, the TRIO Education Opportunity Center, the Willie Hinton Neighborhood Center, Dempsey Bakery, Simms BBQ, The ARC, Union Rescue Mission, the Goodwill store on S. University, the Veterans Day Treatment Center, Central AR Development Council (CADC), the Child Support Enforcement Office, Community Connections, all LR Neighborhood Resource Centers, the Dream Center, the Federal Probation office, St. Francis House and the Mosaic Church.
“I would like to personally thank the folks at Leader Publishing in Jacksonville,” Beems acknowledged Matt Robinson and his team for the quality of their printing services. “It is a pleasure working with such top-drawer professionals and we could not have done it without them.”
For more information about the 9am/12noon October 25 public program on poverty and homelessness at which Combs will speak, contact Nancy Kimpel, UUCLR Presents Team Member, (501) 366-1206.
For more information about Help YourSelf: Community Resources Directory, including a complete list of distribution locations and PDF download of the debut edition, visit online at http://www.helpyourselfpublishing.wordpress.com