Why Helena?

"Helena occupies
one of the prettiest situations on the river."

—Mark Twain,
Life on the Mississippi


Helena-west helena, Arkansas; population 12,282
34.7% poverty rate / 50% population loss since 1960

Founded in 1833 and located in the heart of the Mississippi River Delta region, Helena was once a bustling industrial city with upwards of 25,000 residents. In its prime, the city was home to plentiful jobs in factories and agriculture, and the city's culture revolved around Blues music—numerous juke joints in town employed such Blues greats as Memphis Slim & Roosevelt Sykes throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

But after the closing of the largest factory in Helena in the 1970s, significant job losses caused the unemployment rate to skyrocket. Many laid-off workers were forced to move elsewhere to find work, and that meant large population loss. Over time, the poverty rate continued to rise, and today Helena is home to a significant amount of generational poverty with over 1/3 of its residents living below the poverty line.

It's easy to write Helena off as a place that will never again live up to its former glory. But we at Thrive, along with so many others who call Helena home, wholeheartedly believe in the tremendous potential for good things to happen here. In fact, we're already seeing it happen—within the past few years, high school graduation rates have gone up, the unemployment rate has fallen, and the pace of population decline has slowed (source). Through our programs, we hope to tap into these positive changes and leverage them to increase economic mobility and decrease rural brain drain—eventually creating a global model for vibrant, prosperous, and thriving rural communities.


thrive's Mission

Thrive designs opportunity in impoverished regions of rural America to increase economic mobility and decrease the rural brain drain.

We increase economic mobility by:

Lowering barriers to success for individuals and organizations

  • Increasing business knowledge and skills

  • Providing affordable, high-quality marketing materials

  • Providing low-risk opportunities to experiment in the marketplace

  • Providing infrastructure, office space, and other strategic resources

Fostering innovation

  • Teaching the principles of design

  • Providing "innovation spaces" in which residents can gather and generate creative solutions

We decrease the rural brain drain by:

Increasing quality of life & place

  • Increasing access to high-quality services & experiences

  • Identifying & facilitating the development of vital initiatives

Building community

  • Creating leadership & engagement opportunities

  • Facilitating interaction and cooperation between residents