The center’s offerings include financial literacy education and public meeting spaces.
When a Helena-West Helena school was left vacant after students moved to a new facility, community leaders saw an opportunity. Two nonprofit organizations — Delta Circles and the Westside Community Hub — worked together to repurpose the campus and turn it into the Eliza Miller Opportunity Hub, a public space designed to connect people to resources that can help them reach their full potential, expand their leadership and give back to the community.
“I want the community and beyond the community to know that the people in Helena-West Helena can work well together, they can produce something that is impactful and really life changing,” Delta Circles CEO Patricia Ashanti says.
The hub is named for Eliza Miller, an African American businesswoman and educator born in the late 19th century. She bought land that belonged to Sacred Heart Academy and in 1926, Eliza Miller High School — the first African American high school in the area — was established on the site, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Miller was also the first woman to build and operate a movie theater in Arkansas.
When developing the mission and vision for the hub, Ashanti says project leaders wanted to concentrate on helping people currently living in the community.
“We were thinking a lot about those students who would graduate and may not leave the community, and about helping those students to be productive citizens if they should decide to stay,” she says.
One of the amenities designed for this group is a makerspace that is being developed in partnership with the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. Opened in 2014, the Little Rock-based nonprofit has provided tools and training to entrepreneurs, students and other makers.
After acquiring the campus from the school board in early 2020, Ashanti and her team have been working to renovate the campus, so the Eliza Miller Hub has been rolling out its services to the public in phases. The cafeteria was the first to open in May 2021 and it has provided a place where people can host family gatherings safely during the pandemic. The space is rented for a fee and generates revenue that supports the upkeep of the overall facility.
In August 2021, the hub hosted a public launch event, introducing the community to even more new amenities. The conference room was one of the first spaces renovated and it’s available for public use for free. Eventually the conference room will be relocated and this space will become a library.
The Eliza Miller School African American Legacy Museum will be located in the campus’ former library and it will serve as a place to honor the legacy of African Americans who’ve contributed to the Arkansas Delta. The project is being led by a retired teacher who loves history and is serving on the hub’s team, Ashanti says.
“We’ll be working with someone to help us to design that museum space more thoroughly,” she says. “And then we have artists in the community that can help us to share the things that they’ve already collected.”
The school’s former gymnasium was opened to help a local basketball team that didn’t have a place to practice. The hub has also been the site of a monthly pop-up shop for local vendors and in 2022, Ashanti says they plan to host networking sessions for small business owners on a regular basis.
A women’s savings group has been meeting monthly on the campus and one of the newest program offerings is a conflict resolution team. The effort was prompted by community violence resulting in the deaths of young local residents, Ashanti says.
“We have one of our leaders on our team that’s very passionate about that so we’re building that initiative with Black men, asking those that are willing to really take responsibility in helping to reduce some of the conflict that’s going on in the schools and the community,” she says.
While there are several types of programming in the works, hub leaders are open to ideas for other workshops and programs led by people interested in supporting the Helena-West Helena community.
“We’re just welcoming of anyone that’s willing to give of their time and energy to this project because we know that it can become richer by more people that are willing to add to it,” Ashanti says.
More information about the Eliza Miller Opportunity Hub is available by visiting the Delta Circles website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.