As a Community Development advocate, Cathy Cunningham believes in the power of education - cultural, political & economic - to change lives and communities. She believes that young people and adults, who understand the importance of helping to create an improved quality of life for all, can positively affect the direction of a community’s future.
After marrying Ernest Cunningham in 1978 and moving to Helena, she was fortunate to share in the lives of his two sons and now five grandchildren. Mrs. Cunningham soon became a champion of historic preservation and led an effort to restore several historic structures. Upon seeing the dramatic results several friends were easily persuaded to become involved with the restoration of the 1905 Short House, still in operation as the Edwardian Inn Bed & Breakfast.
Cathy Cunningham has been dedicated to the improvement of her ‘adopted’ hometown through tourism and economic development. She was appointed by Governor Frank White to the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (Arkansas Economic Development Commission). She served as Chairman of the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council and as one of the founding board members of the Arkansas Main Street Program. She was the first woman asked to serve on the Board of Arkansas Power & Light (Entergy Arkansas), and has served many years on the Board of First National Bank of Phillips County (Southern Bancorp, Central).
Mrs. Cunningham and her husband were instrumental in the decision of KIPP; the Knowledge is Power Program, to open a school in Helena. A national network of public Charter Schools dedicated to preparing students in underserved communities for success in college & in life; KIPP opened in 2002 with 3 classes of 5th grade students and now serves over 1500 students in Helena-West Helena, Blytheville, and Forrest City. Mrs. Cunningham serves on the Board of KIPP Delta where, as Chairman of the Development Committee, she led a campaign to raise several million dollars to support KIPP Delta Public Schools.
As a Community Development Consultant with Southern Bancorp Community Partners, and as Chair of the Helena Advertising & Promotion Commission, Mrs. Cunningham led the development and implementation of the Civil War Helena project and many tourism related improvements in the community. The Civil War project included the construction of a ¾ replica of the former Ft. Curtis, development of Battery C, construction of Freedom Park, and the placement of more than 100 interpretive kiosks, bronzes, & canons throughout the community. Civil War Helena shares the emotional stories of both Union & Confederate soldiers, Contraband (former slaves) and the families left behind.