Arkansas Community Foundation's Heather Larkin on Your Neighbors' Aspirations

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jun. 16, 2014 12:00 am  

Heather Larkin

A native of Charleston (Franklin County), Heather Larkin is a graduate of Hendrix College in Conway and the Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She joined the Arkansas Community Foundation in 1998 and became its president and chief executive officer in January 2008. She also serves on the boards of the Southeast Council of Foundations, Acansa Arts Festival, Keep Arkansas Beautiful Foundation and Just Communities of Arkansas.

ARCF, founded in 1976, is Arkansas’ only statewide community foundation.

Tell us about the growth of the Arkansas Community Foundation: How much money has been raised, where did it come from and what is being done with it?

When I arrived in 1998, the foundation had $19 million in assets, seven local affiliate offices with approximately 85 local board members and annual grants of $1.5 million. Today, the foundation has $226 million in assets, 27 local affiliate offices with about 475 local board members and annual grants of around $13 million. These funds are given by Arkansas families and companies in order to help build strong communities. Grants are given to support the arts, the environment, the hungry and the poor — causes that help create communities where our kids want to raise their kids.

What are the challenges you face when raising money?

Arkansans are some of the most generous people in the nation. We give at the drop of a hat. Our greatest challenge is being bold and visionary with our philanthropy, thinking big about the change we want to happen.

How do you determine if an ARCF program is a success?

There are many definitions of success depending on the purpose of a grant. Sometimes it is simply the overall success of an organization in meeting its mission. Sometimes it is the impact of a particular program.

Why were you attracted to Arkansas Community Foundation?

I love so much about the work of the foundation: working in every county in a beautiful state, combining smart business with a social mission, helping people have an impact with their charitable dollars and creating legacies for Arkansans who want to give back to the community that has given them so much.

In your “Aspire Arkansas” report, what statistic did you find most disturbing? What was most encouraging?

Most disturbing is that only 80 percent of our students in Arkansas are graduating from high school. Without a high school degree, people will make only 58 percent of an average worker’s weekly wage and contribute half as much in tax revenue as high school graduates. Four out of 10 people without a high school diploma (or an equivalent) receive some form of social welfare and are eight times as likely to be incarcerated. If we want to make an impact in this state, we have to help people graduate from high school with skills to get a livable wage job or to further their education.

Most encouraging is work in this area — primarily in early childhood reading. Communities are learning that a child who cannot read at grade level in the third grade is four times more likely not to graduate from high school. Every one of us can have a positive impact in this area by volunteering or contributing to a reading program.

What do you think is the easiest thing Arkansans could do to make a big difference in the lives of our neighbors?

Be engaged in your community in whatever capacity you can. Don’t sit back and watch — find a way to contribute. Simply doing that makes a difference in everyone’s life.



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