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The Birdhouses Hold a Majority.

Tiny Elaine, Arkansas, boldly calls itself “America’s Birdhouse Capital,” a brash but accurate statement for a town with only 636 countable souls.  As of the end of January, the town sported more than 670 birdhouses in plain view — with more in the pipeline.  The good folks of Elaine are doing more than lip service to their lofty claim.  The public phone shown here is available outside the national headquarters of “America’s Birdhouse Capital.”

saint boniface

Sunday, February 1, 2015
Pine Buff, Arkansas

The reality in Elaine, Arkansas, was and is:  We've seen better days.  Elaine is not alone in that dilemma.  Hundreds of similar small towns in the Delta suffer the same fate.  From that common point of emphasis, however, Elaine stands out from the pack.

The townfolk here, stuck with the old reality of decline, decided to create a new reality of distinction.  Far-fetched as it may seem, the folks in Elaine are billing themselves as “America’s Birdhouse Capital" — and they are taking the idea way past lip service.  As of the 2010 census, Elaine was home to 636 counted people.  As of the last of January 2015, the town sports more than 670 birdhouses in public view.  How they got there is a long story we’ll try to abbreviate.


Bird Light

Who’da thunk some old gallon cans would make a cool “red-light” birdhouse?  The folks in Elaine did, that’s who.  Their ingenuity is the sort of thing one would expect from “America’s Birdhouse Capital.”

Back in 1993, Patricia (“Pat” to her friends) Kienzle, a professional school counselor from Fayetteville, Arkansas, decided to loan her skills and talent to elementary schools in the Elaine School system.  She was welcomed with open arms.  Over time, she established regular visits and became a part and parcel of the Elaine community.

Things were going fine until 2006 when the “c-word,” consolidation, swept into Elaine.  The Elaine School System was consolidated into the Marvell School system.  That meant no more schools in Elaine.


3 Trees, 9 Houses

Entering Elaine from the north on Arkansas Highway 44 gives the visitor a hint toward things to come.  The shrubs behind the sign are home to nine birdhouses.

Now attached to and part and parcel of the community, Pat was looking for a reason to continue her visits to Elaine.  Along the way, members of Divine Deliverance Church of Elaine, pastored by Rev. Andrew Gibson, became interested in Pat's service and her positive impact on local children.  As a result, Divine Deliverance Church and Rolling Hills Baptist Church of Fayetteville, Pat's home church, formed an alliance that gave the counselor and community friend her reason to return.


They're Everywhere!

The “America’s Birdhouse Capital” team puts birdhouses on just about anything that does not move.  Birdhouses decorating this old pump organ on display in the front window of the town’s now closed pawn shop provide good examples.  To the left is an Arkansas Razorback loyalist birdhouse display.


Let's Take a Closer Look.

I leaned the tripod-mounted camera against the pawnshop window to give you a better look at the old organ and its brace of birdhouses.

During a brainstorming session at the Elaine Community Center, Pat and local volunteers were struggling to come up with some sort of activity to keep the young minds of Elaine pointed in the right direction.  The activity needed to appeal to girls and boys alike.  After several ideas and rejections, Pat noticed a flock of birds fluttering around outside the community center.  The Kienzle gears began to turn.  “Why don’t we become America’s Birdhouse Capital?” she mused.  After a few laughs the meeting adjourned.  But the idea didn’t.

Almost by mental osmosis, the birdhouse idea germinated, not only with Pat Kienzle, but also with others in the community.  Something good was about to happen.


'Wall of Fame'

The birdhouse “Wall of Fame” decorates the side of an old building in downtown Elaine.  These birdhouses are for the birds.  Others are for display only since eye-level bird residences, even in a small town, are not a good idea.

The first manifestation of the idea was to gather materials for birdhouses, have young people build the birdhouses at the community center, and subsequently install them in conspicuous places around town.  The idea caught on and more volunteers and youngsters bought into the program.  Gary Carpenter, a local hardware merchant, donated materials for birdhouse construction.


The Community Spirit Expands to Murals.

Just across from the aforementioned “Wall of Fame” is a collection of wall murals painted and proudly displayed by Elaine youngsters.  In Elaine, everyone has a piece of the action.


It Works!

Above the murals hangs a birdhouse with a “roofin’ arn” roof and a decorative doorknob for a perch.  These Elaine folks are not short on imagination.


Out with the Ugly, In with the Cute

Nothing is safe from the birdhouse crew.  They relentlessly attack ugly old blight with cute birdhouses.  Here the drive-thru of the now-defunct Elaine Liquor store is festooned with five birdhouses and a birdhouse banner.


Birds Like Trees, Too.

Yes, the crew does install birdhouses in trees.  These are close to downtown.


Home in a Basket

This basket birdhouse roosts in the same tree as those above.

After a series of successes, program participants decided they needed a dedicated and more visible location to do their birdhouse thing.  So they got busy and made arrangements to lease an old medical clinic building in “downtown” Elaine and moved into the facility.

More successes followed their move to the new digs.  Then, around the time the lease came up for renewal, the bank handling the property informed the organization that the owner wanted to sell the building and “please make an offer.”  They did.  To their great delight, the birdhouse gang's offer was accepted.


Nerve Center for Birdhouse Mania

Here’s the former Elaine Medical Clinic, now national headquarters for “America’s Birdhouse Capital.”  Close inspection will reveal yours truly flanked by his trusty pickup reflected in the door, an unavoidable condition due to lighting conditions.


Ora at the Controls

You are looking at the front office of the national headquarters.  Local coordinator Ora Scaife is holding down the fort.  This is an unusual picture of Ora, since her default facial configuration is “smile.”  Most of the items you see are for sale.


Rising from the Wreckage

Volunteers from Joplin, Missouri, built these birdhouses from debris left in the wake of the killer tornado that attacked their fair city on May 22, 2011.  These nicely crafted houses are not for sale.

To finance their new purchase, the organization offered “square foot sponsorships” in the new facility for ten dollars a pop.  The community and some corporate sponsors responded.  Between in-kind and cash gifts, the birdhouse magnates were able to buy the building, cover the closing costs, buy insurance coverage, and open the doors. The organization has done it all with no outside grants.


Yes She Can!

Meet Ora Scaife, local coordinator for “America’s Birdhouse Capital.”  She has a thousand-watt smile and ten megawatts of energy for the birdhouse program.  She can tell you the story behind every birdhouse.  Effervescent with enthusiasm, the word “can’t” is not part of her vocabulary.

Asked how they did it, Ora sums it with one word:  Faith!

“We have faith in our community and in what we are doing,” she says.  Aware of the reality and challenges of keeping a non-profit going, Ora says the organization has made several applications for outside help and is continuing to ask.  With faith on their side, continued success will very likely happen.  In the meantime, the birdhouse visionaries of Elaine continue to fuel their faith with hard work, and that's the real secret of their success thus far.

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