Shirley Powell, though technically retired from the teaching field, spends her time volunteering for the people and children who live in the city she calls home.
She grew up in the Des Arc area and wasn’t able to go to college immediately upon graduating from Des Arc High School.
“I grew up in a poor family and didn’t have the money to go to college right out of high school,” Powell said. She had dreams of becoming a teacher and was willing to work to achieve her goal.
“I worked as a secretary and bookkeeper before I went to college,” she said. Her experience in business sculpted what she ultimately would do for a career.
“When I was 25, I went to college,” she said. “I got my Associate of Arts at ASU-Beebe, a Bachelor of Arts in business education at Harding University, and I went to ASU [in Jonesboro], where I got a Master of Science in education.”
She taught business courses at Arkansas State University-Beebe while she was working on her doctorate at the University of Mississippi. In addition to her 35-year teaching career at ASU-Beebe, Powell taught one year of high school in Hughes.
She decided on teaching business because of her background working as an administrative assistant and bookkeeper.
“It made sense for me to get a degree in that area,” she said.
She retired from teaching in 2012 and now spends her spare time volunteering for the community. In December, Powell was named Volunteer of the Year for the WISE Coalition in Searcy.
WISE stands for White County Invested in Substance Abuse Eradication, a group that strives to develop a countywide, culturally competent coalition that works for the prevention and reduction of underage drinking and the misuse and abuse of all substances by all ages.
“I saw an article in the paper about what WISE was doing a long time ago,” Powell said. “I called the gentleman who was running it at the time, and I asked if they needed any help.”
When Powell got the go-ahead to join WISE, she went to a town hall meeting with the coalition and saw what the organization was all about, and the rest is history.
“I think WISE is helping our community, and the fact that we are lowering the number of young people who drink or use substances or abuse drugs is great,” she said.
Powell is a member of the executive board for WISE and is able to spend more time working for the coalition in her retirement.
“I miss the relationships that you develop with the students, but I don’t miss grading papers,” she said.
She doesn’t draw the line for her volunteerism with the WISE Coalition.
“I also work with CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates,” Powell said. “When a child is removed from their home, they put a volunteer on the case so we can see what the child really needs. Do they need to go back with their parents or go to a permanent home away from their parent?”
She said she wanted to become a part of CASA while she was still teaching, but in order to be a CASA volunteer, she had to be available to go to court every Thursday.
“After I retired, I called them up and got in on the next class that was teaching how [to volunteer for CASA],” Powell said. “I enjoy it. I have not had a bad case yet.”
In addition to being a CASA volunteer, Powell still does some teaching.
“I teach a class for the battered-women’s shelter two days a week,” she said.
She teaches the women at the shelter how to manage money.
Because she volunteers at so many places, Powell said, she had to go back to work to make a little extra money in her retirement.
“I started teaching at Pulaski Technical College because I thought I needed some gas money,” she said.
Powell teaches accounting and Introduction to Business online, so she doesn’t have to drive to Little Rock every day.
She uses her hobby of gardening for the good of the community, as well, by being a member of the Master Gardeners.
“One of our projects is the rehab garden at White County [Medical Center] South,” Powell said. “Patients can roll out and see the beautiful flowers we’ve planted.”
The Master Gardeners also plant flowers and bushes at parks around town and in road medians, Powell said.
“I just like being around people and helping people,” she said. “When I read the article in the paper about WISE, I thought it was something I would like to do. I want to help our young people not get hooked on drugs.”
In the past seven years, the WISE Coalition has helped raise the age young people have started trying alcohol, Powell said.
“The age was 11.9; now it’s 12.7,” she said. “The WISE Coalition has been in place for about nine years, but I’ve been with it for about seven years.”
She’s been married to her husband, Clay, for almost 33 years and said she’s been blessed with the children she has.
“I’ve been very lucky. I have three great children and three great children-in-law. I would like for other people to have that advantage — for their children not to be on drugs or be alcoholics because it’s so much easier to help keep them off of drugs than it is to get off once they’re hooked,” Powell said.
She said that out of the many projects WISE works on throughout the year, one of the most successful has been the Drug Take Back effort.
“We take back a lot. It’s drugs that people have in their cabinet and forget about. We ask that they bring them to the police department, and we have a permanent box at some of the police departments around town,” Powell said.
Powell said she enjoys helping her community and will continue to do so as long as she can.
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.