For more than 40 years, the Little Rock Watershed Foundation has been a beacon of hope for the less fortunate in central Arkansas. Founded by Rev. Hezekiah Stewart in 1978, the foundation is a special outreach organization that provides food, clothing, and utility assistance.
With only seven staff members and a few volunteers, the Watershed has provided over 3 million meals, utility bill assistance for more than 20,000 families, and placed people in 7,500 jobs in the past couple of years.
Dubbed “the world’s first social hospital,” Assistant director Diane Stewart said the Watershed is not your typical outreach center.
“If you come through these doors and you need assistance, we will provide any assistance you may need; we turn no-one down,” Diane said.
Fred Hokes, director of the job placement program, said staff members are often called upon to be counselors to people who may have substance abuse or alcohol problems.
“We try to get to the root of a problem,” Hokes said. “Someone not having a job is just the surface. My job is to go in and find what is wrong, or get them to accept what is wrong and strive to fix it.”
Staff member Lisa Davis has been with the foundation for 17 years and got her start through the job placement program.
“This is very much a family,” Davis said. “I believe in giving back the help that was given to me.”
Staff members have relied on Rev. Stewart being at the forefront of raising funds and being the face of the organization. However, Stewart’s hospital stays over the past year have caused some in the community to worry about the future of this organization that relies heavily on fundraising.
“A lot of people are concerned with what’s going to happen to The Watershed with Rev. Stewart being ill,” Stewart said. “This past year the staff decided we’re not going to let the Watershed fall by the wayside.”
The small dedicated staff of the Watershed are now the fundraisers for the small foundation which has seen their budget cut in half.
“We had to step up as a staff,” Davis said. “We were so used to Rev. Stewart being at the top, we just had to start making the phone calls and getting out there raising funds ourselves.”
Although staff members have been raising funds, the Watershed is still in need of volunteers and donations. Whether it is can goods, toys, or a financial donation, items can be dropped off at 3701 Springer St. in Little Rock. Call (5o1) 378-0176 for more information.