Hot Springs woman finds passion for helping children in need

By Lisa Burnett Published November 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Nancy Weaver has been a stay-at-home mom and a volunteer in her community, wherever she has lived in her adult life. However, she wanted to do something more. By placing herself in positions to help others, Weaver was a logical choice to take over at the CEO of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches when the facilities’ longtime leader retired. Now, Weaver commutes many days between her Hot Springs home and the main ranch in Batesville.

Nancy Weaver has a devotion to helping others, and her new position as chief executive officer of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches has given her an opportunity to do that in a big way.

A Hot Springs resident, Weaver grew up in Louisiana; then her family moved to Arkansas between her eighth- and ninth-grade years. She graduated from Clarendon High School in 1976, then pursued her education further.

Weaver received a Bachelor of Science degree in general science and education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

She was a health and science teacher in Monette for a year and a half while her husband finished school in Jonesboro. In 1980, the two had a home in Stuttgart but moved to Virginia, where her husband was in engineer officer school. After a few months, they moved back to Arkansas and stayed in Stuttgart.

In July 1987, they bought a home in Hot Springs, where Weaver still lives. She commutes to the ranch three to four days a week and stays in Hot Springs on the weekends.

“It is a drive of almost three hours, but I stay at the ranch in Batesville a couple of days and then back to Hot Springs,” Weaver said. “I do a lot of business by phone on the trips.”

Weaver was a stay-at-home mom, raising her two children. She volunteered with churches in every community where she and her family had lived, and in Stuttgart, she volunteered with the chamber of commerce and helped out at school when needed, but something was missing.

“While I appreciated being home, I was really bored,” Weaver said. “I will never retire. I love to work.”

This realization sent Weaver back to school about 10 years after she got her undergraduate degree.

“I have a very curious brain, and I always want to learn something new,” she said.

She went through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s master’s degree program in social work and found a passion for helping others.

“I interned at Community Counseling Services Inc. in Hot Springs,” Weaver said.

She was then offered a position as the EXCEL program coordinator, where she provided management and oversight in a kindergarten through 12th-grade intensive mental-health outpatient treatment program.

It turned out that social work is Weaver’s calling. After working for Community Counseling Services, she traveled around the state for Bridgeway Psychiatric Hospital in North Little Rock and performed child, adolescent and adult assessments to determine if the clients needed inpatient care.

In January 2012, Weaver began working for The Pointe Outpatient Behavioral Healthcare and Rivendell Behavioral Healthcare in Hot Springs. She traveled to various service sites across the state to make sure clinics in The Pointe hospital system were operating successfully.

Then one Sunday night, she got a call that changed her career altogether.

“One of my colleagues’ husband was on the search committee [for CEO of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches], and they called me on a Sunday night and asked if I would be interested in the job,” Weaver said. “I had wanted to get back into nonprofit work, and I loved the ranch. This is a dream come true.”

Her first day at the ranch was Oct. 1, and she consults with the former CEO, Mike Cumnock, who had been with the organization for 28 years before retiring this year.

The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranch provides a safe home for children who need it, Weaver said. Because she stays on the ranch during the week, she has an opportunity to experience the campus in a way most people who work on the administrative side of things don’t.

“These children don’t have behavioral problems,” she said. “We provide them with a loving, supportive home. The children have house parents, and each two bedrooms share a bathroom.”

Though she’s been in the job less than a month, Weaver has already realized how much work the staff of the ranch puts in on a daily basis.

“[The staff] is so devoted to what they’re doing. Everyone here loves what they’re doing,” she said. “I’ve actually been in awe of how beautiful our buildings are.”

Weaver said she experienced some family problems growing up and realized that she was resilient and didn’t let those problems affect her.

“I was curious why some people were more resilient than others, and I wanted to work with people to help them develop those [resiliency skills],” she said.

While she was teaching, she would see children who experienced a terrible home life, and once again, her curiosity was sparked.

“I became curious about the differences in people,” Weaver said. “You grow up with people who are like you, and school exposed me to a wider range of people and personalities.”

On a daily basis, she sees and hears stories of people who go through traumatic events, but she said she can’t let it get to her.

“In school, we learn to not become part of the family system,” Weaver said. “If you can’t keep your objectivity, you can’t provide what [your client] needs. You have to keep your distance.”

When she was working as an assessment coordinator, Weaver said, she would cry because she couldn’t help it.

“It was so sad,” Weaver said.

As CEO of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, Weaver is in charge of everything that goes on at the headquarters of the ranch in Batesville, along with ranch campuses in Mulberry, and in Amity, which is in Clark County.

“I make sure all of the supervisors are doing their job,” Weaver said.

The ranch in Amity is smaller than the two other campuses and takes only girls ages 6 to 17.

“There are nine girls there now,” she said. “It’s on DeGray Lake and a lovely place, where the girls live in the houses, have their pets, go to school in the Centerpoint School District and do the normal things teenage girls do.”

Ninety percent of the funds the ranch receives are from private donations, and the other 10 percent comes from grant and some state money.

“We just want to serve as many kids as possible,” she said.

Since she has been at the ranch, she has had time to set some goals for herself and the organization.

“I would like to get [the campuses] back up to capacity,” Weaver said.

Weaver said she enjoys hearing the success stories of the children who grew up on the ranch.

“I love having kids come back [around Christmas] so they can see old friends and their house parents,” she said. “It’s like an extended family.”

She said her position as CEO is allowing her to fulfill a dream, along with taking the advice of one of her mentors.

“She told me women have a lot of potential as managers,” Weaver said. “It’s our obligation as women to represent our sex in [management positions].”

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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