The Servant Heart of Northwest Arkansas

*The following blog was written by Brook Thomas, KNWA/Fox24 News Director*


I was recently asked to write about why I advocate for the United Way of Northwest Arkansas. I was surprised at how such a simple question stumped me. Honestly, I’m not sure I can adequately communicate a “why”. Not because it is a complex answer. But because it is such a basic truth. Why do I choose to help? Well…because you’re supposed to. But as I explored this question I experienced many revelations. I discovered what I believe to be the heart of Northwest Arkansas. I wept over a lost friend. I saw a vision for the future of Northwest Arkansas.

My first UWNWA memory is meeting with Brooke Benoit over a bento box at Kobe. She was wondering if there was a way to engage KNWA/FOX24, the television stations I work at, to bring more awareness to UWNWA. As it turns out, we were in the process of shifting the focus of our stations to be more community-oriented. And here was an organization that touched many non-profits in our community. I recall that lunch was a very exciting lunch! And the times that would follow with Brooke and Brook forging a new partnership were fantastic.

I believe, at its heart, Northwest Arkansas is a community that thrives on acts of service. This has been my home my entire life and I have watched it grow by leaps and bounds. I believe that our growth is driven by the core value of selflessness. Our Fortune 500 companies anchored here share the commitment to give back to the communities they serve. The people who come work for those companies buy in to this ideology. The companies that come to do business with those people recognize that they, too, need to follow this philosophy.

And then a ripple effect happened.

I believe the people at all those companies settled into our little community with this heart for service implanted into their business ethos. Then they realized they wanted to bring that value into their homes. Instead of just a work detail – it became a lifestyle. And that is what makes NWA truly amazing. The people who live here.

This is why KNWA/FOX24 shifted to be the stations that serve our community. Because it is our community.  

Over the years the partnership with UWNWA and KNWA/FOX24 thrived. And over the years I have been the consistent representative engaging with UWNWA on behalf of the stations. The people representing UWNWA have changed over the years, which is very common in the non-profit industry. Brooke moved on to one of those large Fortune 500 companies. Mike Williams joined the team. He and I hit it off because we are simply two servants doing our best to glorify God through our everyday lives. He and I still connect to share our fellowship with one another.

*Side note – check out what he and the team are doing over at WorkMatters. They focus on keeping Faith central in our business lives. Their work is truly inspiring.

Mike moved on and Julie Dickerson Petree came on board. She and I discovered we were kindred spirits. Both creatives with a similar perspective on what kind of work really made a difference. And we were both new parents. Her daughter was just a few months ahead of Adelaide. We loved to share advice, insight and anecdotes during our “work meetings”.

A memory of Julie: I once commented on her amazing family photos hanging on the wall in her office. As it turns out, she was a talented photographer and she had taken those pictures. She quickly offered a free photo session for my family. I was floored! So one (very hot!) summer day, Meredith, Adelaide and I followed Julie out to a field along a Rogers roadside. She took some amazing photos of our new little family.

family 2

Several are framed and around our home to this day.

family

Julie’s sudden passing while giving birth to her second child was very hard. I cried at her funeral. I cried while writing this memory of her. I miss her still. But she lives on in the lives of her two daughters.

After a time for mourning, the relationship needed to continue. And Alexa McGriff was the best person to pick the relationship back up. Over coffees at Onyx on Gregg I quickly learned to admire Alexa. She has lived more than most and has refused to let the bad parts dictate her path. She is an amazing person to know. Time and again we would discuss “what’s next” for UWNWA and KNWA/FOX24 and my response always starts out the same way, “Yes. Tell me what we can do to help”. Now Alexa has moved on to Huge opportunities and the next chapter of the KNWA/FOX24 and UWNWA partnership is beginning.

But these days I look toward a new era for the servant leaders all across NWA.

I believe a shift is needed. I believe it is imminent.

We have so many like-minded people and organizations working hard to improve the lives of others in our community. But the need is growing. Every study points to a widening gap in poverty right here in NWA. I believe an organization must rise and unite all area agencies to collaborate on fixing the root cause of poverty here on the home-front. Problems with education opportunities, health care and transportation are growing as our community grows. And this is happening in a hugely philanthropic community that is wanting to serve. The “boutique charities” (as I call them) need to be organized and connected so that the needs can be met effectively and efficiently. With a collaborative approach we can eradicate poverty in NWA from the inside out.

I believe in the spirit of service that makes the people of NWA so amazing.

I believe we can do better. I believe we are better. I believe we are capable of all things because we are truly selfless.

And so…when asked…why do I advocate for UWNWA? I believe in making our community better. I believe UWNWA is filled with people who are passionate about that same cause.

I believe when asked to act…to act is simply the proper response.

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