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COVID-19 relief grant helps keep Arkansas small business open

The Women's Foundation of Arkansas gave out $5,000 to 18 different minority women-owned businesses, within a span of six weeks, across the state.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — The pandemic has hit our local businesses hard as some are just trying to keep their doors open. 

For Dr. Valandra Oliver, she wasn't sure if she would be able to keep going until help came her way. 

"I don't think we would've made it had I not received that grant when we received it," she said. 

Since Oliver established her independently-owned cleaning service back in 2017, her promise to her employees has always rung true. 

"We've paid everyone a living wage from day one," she said. 

Oliver started Bella Cleaning Services from the ground up with just $250 from her own pockets. 

"Before COVID we were absolutely doing fine. The business had taken off, everything was just landing just the way it needed to land," she said. 

All of that changed in a blink of an eye once the pandemic arrived. 

According to Oliver, she was faced with two main issues. The businesses they cleaned were shut down and janitorial supply prices sky-rocketed. 

"Before I could go to my local janitorial supply store and get whatever I needed, whenever I needed it in an abundance, and now all of a sudden I have to drive sometimes 250 miles round-trip to get basic disinfectant," she said. 

A blessing soon came Oliver's way. 

Bella Cleaning Services was chosen as 1 of 18, out of almost 1 thousand applicants, to received the Women's Foundation of Arkansas COVID-19 relief grant. 

"In our 20-year history we've given out small grants here and there, but to have that kind of mass application, just shows you the need," Anna Beth Gorman, the executive director of the Women's Foundation of Arkansas, said. 

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She said this idea behind the grant actually all started a couple of years ago.

"We did a research report because we were wanting to understand more about the economic circumstance of women across Arkansas," Gorman said. 

In their studies, they found the highest concentrations of women-owned businesses in Arkansas were in the most economically depressed parts of the state. 

According to Gorman, by tying in a national statistic of more Black women owning businesses compared to their male counterparts, they decided to dedicate funds to minority women-owned businesses. 

"We normally would give out grants at the end of the calendar year, but we thought we can do something right now," she said. 

The foundation was able to raise $80,000 to give out $5,000 to 18 different business owners within a span of six weeks. 

But, Gorman said, their help isn't stopping anytime soon. They were chosen as one of nine women foundation's across the country to form a regional economic mobility hub. 

"Basically, work with stakeholders to understand what it's going to take to support women business owners," she said. 

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With this hub, the Women's Foundation of Arkansas will be able to continue its mission of raising awareness, education, and lifting up the voices of minority women-owned businesses across the state. 

"If we can somehow move the needle for them then Arkansas, as a whole state, we're making a difference. We're lifting up more than just a few people," Gorman said. 

The Arkansas Hub will launch this October. 

If you're a women-owned business you can learn more information about grants and support here.


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