what we do
We are a non profit design firm. This means we split our time between operating a small graphic design firm as well as running community development programs. Our office, The Thrive Center, is a 5,000 sq ft workshop full of creative industry standard tools we use in our professional design practice and to teach young people from 7th grade to 12th grade about creative jobs and opportunities. Simultaneously, we instill leadership qualities and love for community in our students by using creative tools and design methods to create projects for both community members and visitors. Essentially, these students and our teams of creative young designers add a dynamic boost to the overall picture of economic development in a rural city that can be contagious. It is Thrive’s vision that the work our teams of students and designers implement will attract new creative residents to Helena and that after college graduation our former Thrive students will move back to work for us (or themselves) in a vibrant, thriving community that they helped build.
how we do it
Rural America will be a global model for vibrant, prosperous, and thriving communities.
We design opportunity in rural america by increasing economic mobility and decreasing population loss.
The concept of thrive dates to 2007, followed by a formal launch in 2009. Since then, Thrive has been an energetic leader within Delta regional development.
Co-Founded by Will Staley and Terrance Clark in 2009, Thrive began by offering affordable strategic planning and graphic design services to local small businesses and non-profits in Helena, Arkansas. These efforts were then stabilized in 2010 through the creation of the Helena Entrepreneur Center (now the Thrive Center), a small business incubator that today serves as a work space to groups of student design teams and mentors. In 2011, Thrive created the monthly downtown celebration, The Cherry Street Fair to provide a marketplace for local merchants, artisans, and musicians—leveraging the cultural assets of the region towards downtown investment and rejuvenation of community pride. It was this project that led Thrive staff to understand the importance of mentorship within the community and changed the organization’s direction.
In 2015, Thrive was awarded a very competitive National Endowment for the Arts, Our Town grant which made it possible to launch the Design Mentorship Residency program which works within the Helena-West Helena public school system to provide industry experience to students within an existing STEM framework. As of January 2019 Thrive has expanded its opportunities to high school youth to include the Thrive Center for community service learning and creative industries - a 15,000sqft maker space and professional design studio that splits its time between mentoring to youth through designing community service learning projects, and providing graphic design contracts for school districts, cities, and community-driven organizations.
"HELENA OCCUPIES ONE OF THE PRETTIEST SITUATIONS ON THE RIVER."
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.
WILL STALEY founder & executive director
An Arkansas native, Will studied at the University of Arkansas School of Architecture for two years, received his BFA in Graphic Design at the Kansas City Art Institute (2004) and a Masters of Industrial Design from Pratt in New York City, where Thrive was birthed as a thesis project in 2007. Will was a design intern at the Smithsonian Institute and then worked for a year at the William J. Clinton Foundation in Harlem, NYC, as a Fellow in the Department of Domestic Policy. A co-founder of Thrive, Will is the Executive Director and Creative Director of Thrive’s Design Services department.
SARAH MELBY associate creative director
Sarah was born and raised in south Texas, but moved to northwest Arkansas in 2013 to attend John Brown University where she earned her bachelors degree in Graphic Design. From there, she moved to the Arkansas Delta to work as a Design Mentor in the Helena - West Helena School District as part of Thrive’s Design Mentorship Residency. After falling in love with the area, the community, and Thrive’s mission, Sarah decided to continue with Thrive as a full-time Graphic Designer.
Ryan Biles director of development
After graduating from the University of Arkansas with a degree in architecture, Ryan began working full time for SCM Architects. Through the firm's work throughout the region, including historic preservation and higher education projects for Phillips Community College, Ryan, his wife, Natalie, and their three sons developed a love for the Delta and rural places. A resident of the town of Lonoke, Ryan is involved in leading numerous community development initiatives as a volunteer and supporter. Following the conclusion of Thrive's initial phase of branding design work on behalf of the community of Lonoke, Ryan was invited to join the non-profit's Board of Directors in late 2017. He has served as an integral part of Thrive's mission to design opportunity in rural communities, and began a new role as Thrive’s Director of Development in 2019.
board of directors
RYAN BILES Board President
Business Development Officer, SCM Architects
Director, Boys and Girls Club of Phillips County
LYNN CHADWICK, Board President
Recruiter, University of Arkansas
Chancellor, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas
COO, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce
Chief of Police, Helena-West Helena