2023 Annual Report


Booneville, Arkansas, is located in Logan County and is settled between the Arkansas River Valley and the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains. The city has a population of around 3,990 and is one of the oldest cities in western Arkansas. The Booneville School District has approximately 1,256 students in grades K-12.

Lucy Ray is no stranger to the Booneville School District. She moved to the area as a teenager and later met her husband. Together they have raised five children in the area. Lucy was a stay-at-home mom for years, and after her last child graduated high school, she attended college to become a teacher. However, she ended up taking a different route. She became the Program Coordinator for the Bearcat Care Center, a School-Based Health Center. She works with Mercy’s Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Sunny Bray, to provide onsite care for students and staff in the Booneville School District. Although she did not get her teaching license, she ended up right where she needed to be, working with members of the Booneville School District.

Booneville faces daily challenges with kids and their parents regarding their eating habits. Lucy is determined to change that.

Bearcat Care Center in Booneville staff
Bearcat Care Center in Booneville staff (clockwise l-r) Sunny Bray, Britney Krigbaum, Lucy Ray and Haylee Appleton. Photo used with permission from Mercy.net Newsroom

In her role, Lucy attends monthly and quarterly meetings. During one of the meetings, Lucy was introduced to Communities Unlimited (CU) Healthy Foods Coordinator Brenda Williams. Lucy and Brenda stayed in touch and started to meet regularly.

Brenda visited with Lucy about a grant she was working with through the “No Kid Hungry” organization, which works to get food to underserved areas. Brenda talked to Lucy about the “Vouchers 4 Veggies” program, which introduces school-aged kids and families to healthier eating. Vouchers 4 Veggies provides participants $80 monthly through a gift card to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. The cards automatically renew every month throughout the six-month program, allowing families to buy new produce items and try new things.

Lucy kept the information on her desk for a few months and could not quit thinking about what it could mean for the children and families she interacts with daily. She decided to reach back out to Brenda. Lucy was excited; she wanted to do her part in helping the children of Booneville have better access to healthy foods.

Lucy and Brenda reviewed the program that eventually became Booneville Bucks. As they visited more, Brenda explained the details of the program. Participants needed to be diagnosed with a health condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, chronic illness, etc. A parent could participate if they had a child living in the home. Lucy started getting everything lined out; working for the school system, she was used to executing a well-practiced plan. She realized that a pilot program would require her to develop more flexibility.

Part of a pilot program like Booneville Bucks is learning how to execute. The only way that this happens is if the leader of the program stays on top of the execution. They have to lead the program and the participants, etc. Lucy did just that and even went beyond. She stayed on top of everything during the duration of the program. She knew what students qualified for the program and would contact the parents. Since the participant did not have to be the student, Lucy also asked parents to participate if they met the criteria. Lucy was able to come up with 50 participants and issue 50 cards. Although one participant decided to stop the program, there was still so much excitement for the program.

“The kids started getting involved by picking out the foods and participating in the check-out process at the store. They were excited about the program”

— Lucy Ray, Program Coordinator, Bearcat Care Center

Lucy Ray

Lucy collaborated extensively with Sunny and Brenda between their busy schedules and the many snow days Arkansas encountered in January 2023. The participants would come in and fill out surveys on an iPad provided by CU. If they had a chronic condition, such as high blood pressure, they would meet with the nurse practitioner to get their biometrics, including weight and blood pressure.

She sent reminders about the program’s requirements, the importance of completing the surveys, and staying in touch about their progress. In addition to the surveys, Lucy developed a questionnaire that she emailed the participants to gather feedback about the program. Lucy was so involved in the program that she created additional items to share with the participants and their families, including recipes, nutrition tips, and even a cookbook she and Brenda created.

Lucy did not stop there; she asked the participants to share photos of the kids and families making healthy purchases with the cards.

Lucy stayed on top of the project from beginning to end and wanted to ensure success. Lucy stated that in the first few weeks of the program, there was an 86% redemption rate, which was better than expected and very high for a pilot program like Booneville Bucks.

"Lucy and Sunny have been fully committed to developing and implementing a successful program. They have demonstrated extraordinary leadership to increase access to fresh produce for this pilot project."

— Brenda Williams, Communities Unlimited

Brenda Williams

Lucy loved the project and working with CU, “It sure made me feel good to be able to provide this for the participants. It was so much work, but knowing we were doing something good and positive is a great feeling.”