Heart Association Merger Conserves People's Time, Efforts

by John Henry  on Monday, Sep. 27, 2004 12:00 am  

When Missy Lewis became executive director of the American Heart Association's local division three years ago, it didn't take her long to see the need to consolidate the separate Little Rock and North Little Rock boards.

In July, that merger became a reality with the creation of the Pulaski County Division of the American Heart Association.

It's been a smooth transition and all concerned seemed to be pleased and excited about it.

Each chapter was working on the same events, Lewis said, but she was having to meet with two different boards doing pretty much the same planning, which didn't make much sense to her.

Johnny Heflin, chairman of Bird and Bear Medical Inc. and chairman of the Little Rock board, and Barry Hyde, president of Hydco Construction Co. and chairman of the North Little Rock board, guided the merger during the organization's last fiscal year, which ended in June.

Taking over in July as this year's chairman was J.D. Ashley Jr. of The Ashley Group, who comes from the north side of the river. Next year, the chairman's post will rotate to the south and be filled by Dan Herrington of Friday Eldredge & Clark.

Under Lewis' leadership the Pulaski division has become one of the most dynamic nonprofits in the state, Ashley said. The local group consistently outperforms the national average in fund raising.

The annual Central Arkansas Heart Ball raised $653,000 this past year, making it the largest single fund-raising event in the state, said Lannie Cox, who heads public relations for the Heart Associa-tion. It's growth, from raising only $100,000 or so just four years ago, has generated national publicity. Lewis said she hopes to make it a $1 million event in the next five years.

The American Heart Walk raised $310,000. The $138 per walker raised was far ahead of the national average.

Another premier event is the American Heart Golf Classic held each year at Chenal Country Club. The four-ball tourney raised $120,000 last year.

New to the agenda this year is the Central Arkansas Festival of Wines, which took place last Thursday on the veranda of the Acxiom Corp. building in the River Market District.

Lewis said last week that she had no idea what to expect, but she's hoping it will become a $100,000 event for the Heart Association. More than 400 different wines to taste, all donated, and an auction of collectible and rare selections of wine were the highlights of the event.

Lewis said streamlining the management of the two boards allows the organization to focus more on its mission to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke. It's national goal is to reduce coronary heart disease, stroke and the risk of these diseases by 25 percent by 2010.

The local organization raises about $1.2 million a year, of which 25 percent goes to the national American Heart Association, but it comes back to Arkansas multiplied, Cox said. Currently, AHA is funding $1.2 million in cardiovascular research projects at the Univer-sity of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

The AHA also offers numerous local health programs, conferences, workshops and screenings to inform people that heart attack is the single greatest killer in the U.S. and stroke is the third leading killer. A new campaign, Go Red for Women, has been launched to raise awareness that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.

After the United Way removed all health organizations from its list of agencies receiving funds, AHA lost about $70,000, Lewis said. The Pulaski division is part of a national pilot program just getting under way that will emphasize workplace giving in which employees can give by way of a payroll deduction.

"We are not asking companies to de-emphasize United Way, but we will be asking companies to start a choices program," Lewis said, meaning a choice of several worthy organizations an employee might want to give to. Nuvell Financial Services Corp. has already signed on, she said.



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