LEADING the Way

Story by Beth Latham

When Jessica Lambert, coordinator of Concurrent Enrollment for Arkansas Tech University, wakes up each morning there are at least a dozen different pulls at her time. Wife, mother, professional, community service volunteer, she’ll tell you its all about prioritizing.

This year, Jessica is the chair for the River Valley United Way 2008 Campaign drive, with the overall theme of “What Matters…”

“For all of us, it really does come down to what matters to each individual, and for me, being able to contribute to an organization like United Way enables me to focus on what matters to me, and that’s helping with local children and elderly programs.”

Coming from Springdale, Jessica was offered a scholarship to Arkansas Tech University, which she described as far enough from home to feel independent, but close enough to be able to go home if she needed.

Jessica completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Marketing in 2000 and began her career as Publicity and Student Recruitment Specialist. But that wasn’t the end of her educational experience. She continued her education while working at Tech, completing her master’s degree (MBA) from University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2003.

She then moved into the position of Associate Registrar for Tech where she has been until this past September when she assumed the position of Coordinator of Concurrent Enrollment.

“Working with the students, is really the best part of the job”, states Jessica, who on a daily basis works with more than 200 high school students who are dually enrolled, earning college credit while still in high school.

Throughout her college, sorority and working careers, Jessica had been serving in various community and civic organizations and projects.

In 2004, while serving on the Pope and Yell County Single Parent Scholarship Board, Jessica’s commitment to service garnered the attention of fellow board member Vicki Johnson, who was also serving on the River Valley United Way (RVUW) Board of Directors. Johnson recruited Jessica to serve on the board and in three short years, Jessica moved into a leadership role in the organization — serving as allocation chair last year and moving into campaign chair/president elect for this year.

Jessica explains, “Allocations committee is the best way of really getting to see not only the need in the community, but also the way in which the programs and services applying for funds are addressing those needs. You get to see on a really personal level the work being done by our partner agencies.”

The allocations committee consists of board members and community volunteers who make site visits to the agencies to evaluate the effectiveness and impact that each agency is making within the community. They then ultimately determine the amount of each agency’s allocation.

“The real lesson that I took from that experience, was the amount of need in the River Valley area. I had a small town, hospitable picture of the area but not the notion of the level of poverty and hunger that is so prevalent or the real percentage of individuals that benefit each day from United Way programs,” said Jessica.

The real numbers are 33,000 individuals or 33% of the population of Pope, Yell and Johnson Counties are somehow impacted each year by a United Way partner program or agency. Whether it’s the programs of MiChild enrichment center of Friendship Community Care to the 62,000 meals provided to home-bound individuals through Meals on Wheels; and everything in between, there are more than 35 programs impacting the River Valley community.

Married to Lewis Lambert in 1999, Jessica and her husband make their home in Danville where Lewis is a salesman with the family business, Lambert Motors.

One of Jessica Lambert’s objectives is to provide a better community for her family, a family that grew from the couple to five with the births of the Lambert triplets in 2006. A daughter Jordon and two sons, Kaleb and Braden, now 17 months old, are at the center of every conversation, decision and thought that Jessica Lambert has.

“The kids are reaching the temper tantrum age, so as if it hadn’t been interesting enough up to this point, they are really beginning to show their individual personalities.”

Jessica goes on to describe the triplets individually. Jordon is a very social, outgoing, very vocal little girl. She is also very mothering and very protective of her brothers. Braden is very easy going, very laid back, and Kaleb falls somewhere in the middle with just the right mix of everything little boys should be.

“Watching them interact is so fun”, their proud mother gushes. “Most people don’t get to see their children really help their siblings they way they do, it’s so neat to watch. If Braden is having trouble getting up the stairs, Jordan is right there to help.”

“I love hearing people say that my children are a blessing, so many people are always saying how glad they are that they aren’t theirs. I know they are blessing, how much they’ve brought to my life.”

Braden has Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic lung and GI tract disorder. He is teaching his mother how to advocate for what a child needs and has shown Jessica just how important it is to support non-profit agencies and their missions.

“Now that I am so personally vested, I see how each organization feels in respect to their cause. Before, I wouldn’t have considered myself sensitive but now I’ve learned to be more cognizant of the needs of others, I know that real changes are possible when dedicated people put a real effort into it.”

Jessica sees encouraging that kind of commitment and dedication to the programs and agencies of River Valley United Way as her goal next year when she serves the organization as President.

“Improving motivation and involvement at a higher level throughout the community, getting people involved, that’s what really helps with funding,” she says.

“People give to what they know, and what they feel compelled to make better.”

With so many organizations, with so many different missions and objectives, one wonders why would Jessica Lambert chose to be involved with United Way versus all the other non-profit organizations.

“At this point in my life, I feel like I can impact more lives with involvement in River Valley United Way verses a non- local organization. United Way is now my primary affiliation. With 99% of all money contributed from Pope, Yell and Johnson Counties being re-invested in the River Valley, it really is the best option for making a difference in our community.”

“If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I would have had much more on my plate and not been as effective because my time would have been spread. Personal involvement, and first hand experience has made me more effective in the organizations that I have been involved in.”

Jessica has served on allocations committee as chair and panel chair; golf tournament committee, barbecue fundraiser committee, and a host of other committees. As campaign chair, she is focusing on using new sources of media and awareness including new billboards, a locally-produced video, and the community card, a new incentive program consisting of a discount card for donors who contribute at least $104 for the 2008 campaign.

With a monetary goal of $600,000 and less tangible goals of increasing community involvement and meeting the needs of the health and human service organizations, Jessica and the River Valley United Way have a huge task before them.

But, Jessica is quick to point out that none of this would be possible for her or for anyone without the help and support of a great team.

“Fortunately, I have a great network of family, friends, supervisors, co-workers and colleagues that help each day. If I didn’t have help and support, it wouldn’t work.The rest of the United Way board and staff have been able to pick up the slack when family and personal concerns have mounted. I realize how fortunate I am to have that.”

Each email that Jessica sends out is tagged with the phrase, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on”.

Jessica says she can’t even count how many knots her rope has at this point, but says she feel like no matter how rich or full your life is, there is always room for more if you are sharing, caring and impacting the lives of others.

“It is possible to add that one more thing, if you really want to you can make it happen,” adds Jessica. “It just takes a great team to hold you up when you need it, and you have to be prepared to lead the way.”

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