Benton native enjoys serving community

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published March 19, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Matt Johnson/Contributing Photographer

Leigha Jones is the 2017 chairman of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. A native of Benton, she is also director of community development for Civitan Services.

Leigha Jones, 35, has come full circle.

Born and raised in Benton, the only child of Tony and Belinda Floyd, Jones left her hometown to earn a college degree and returned to take on leadership roles. She is the 2017 chairman of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

Jones is also director of community development for Civitan Services, where she has been employed for 10 years.

“We are so proud to see someone who grew up in this community do great things in her life and give back to her community,” said Gary James, chamber executive director. “We are pleased to see her taking a leadership role as chairman of our board of directors. We are confident she is taking us to the next level. Her enthusiasm … her young attitude … is contagious.”

Jones joined the chamber when she accepted her job at Civitan Services in 2006.

“They told me, ‘Go get involved in the community,’” Jones said, smiling. “Civitan Services was already a chamber member at that time, so I just stepped into the role. I am a representative of Civitan Services.

“I got on the Ambassador Committee right off the bat,” she said. “That got me really involved. I met a lot of people. I already knew a lot of people, since I grew up here, but I met a whole lot of other new people. I made new contacts. The chamber started the Ambassador of the Year program, and I won it the first year. In fact, I won it the first three years.

“I have been on the chamber’s board of directors for three years,” she said. “I was elected secretary of the Executive Committee and served two years in that capacity. I was vice president of the Executive Committee for two years, and now I am president, which is a one-year term.”

When asked if she has goals as president of the Executive Committee, she answered diplomatically: “Yes … and no,” she said.

“We’ve talked through this before, so I can’t claim it as my own, but we want to add value to the membership for our smaller businesses who don’t have a representative who can get away from the business to join a committee,” she said. “A huge segment of our local business community is made up of these smaller businesses, and we want to offer them information to help build their businesses.

“Whether it’s a panel discussion that they can view on YouTube, a white paper tip sheet or a private Q and A group on social media, we want to give them this information that they can review when they have time instead of during a luncheon or meeting,” she said. “We might not be able to cover all the topics or reach every business segment this year, but we will get the ball rolling.”

Jones is “pleased to be chairman of the chamber’s board of directors,” she said.

“It may sound silly to say, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to do. It’s really something I am proud of,” Jones said.

“When I was growing up, Dad, who is the head of the Benton Street Department, knew a ton of people,” she said. “[The town] felt like a good old boys’ club when I was a kid.

“Then I moved off to college, and when I came back, the town had grown and has kept growing. More and more businesses have moved in. Riverside Park is opening in April. There is more and more progress. I am proud to live and work here.”

Jones graduated from Benton High School in 2000. She graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in December 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in advertising and public relations and a minor in marketing.

“I started my first job three days after I graduated. I worked for Mangan Holcomb Rainwater Culpepper (now Mangan Holcomb Partners) in Little Rock. I was a media planner. I worked there for about six months,” she said.

“That fall, 2004, I went to work at KATV-Channel 7 as the [Arkansas

Razorback Sports Network] affiliate relations director. I worked there until August 2006,” Jones said.

“My boss would sell the ads. Then he and the school would call me, and I’d place the ads. It was fun and fast. It did not pay well, but I worked with all the talent … Scott Inman, Steve Sullivan and the late Paul Eells,” she said.

“I got to watch all the home Razorback games from the press box in Fayetteville. I remember one game when Keith Jackson (former radio broadcast color analyst for the University of Arkansas) turned to me and picked me up and whirled me around

after the Razorbacks had scored. I loved both of those guys (Jackson and Eells) so much. They provided so much positive

energy,” she said.

“I got the call to come interview with Civitan Services the week Paul died. I put off the interview for a while. That was in 2006. I don’t think I would have left if Paul had not died. (Eells died July 31, 2006, in a car accident). He was the heart of that job,” Jones said.

“That was in August. I did both jobs for a while until they could find a replacement for me. I worked 80-plus hours a week doing both jobs,” she said.

“Taking the job at Civitan Services meant a pay increase, … even more because I lived here and did not have to commute to Little Rock anymore. I took the job at Civitan

Services in August 2006 and am coming up on my 10th anniversary there,” she said.

“Civitan Services has almost doubled since I’ve been there. We moved our administrative offices to Bryant, but we still have the preschool at the Benton location,” Jones said.

“The role of community development

director has changed over the years. The special events part of my job is now a job in and of itself, so I do not handle special events anymore,” she said.

“I am the HIPAA (Health Insurance

Portability and Accountability Act) representative in the event of any emergencies. I speak to the media in all cases; I handle media relations,” Jones said.

“I proofread and create communications, newsletters, etc.,” she said. “I control our brand … our logo. I am not a graphic designer, but I do graphic design.

“I speak at civic meetings. If you see someone out in the community representing Civitan Services, it’s probably me.”

Jones said Civitan Services serves children and adults with developmental disabilities in Saline County.

“We serve approximately 300 clients every day,” she said. “We have 102 in our preschool, 160 in our adult program and 20-plus in the community.

“In our preschool program, it’s all about getting them ready for public school. In our adult program, it’s all about making them as independent as possible.”

Civitan Services also operates a group home for 13 residents, and the organization owns the Civitan Apartments, which offer affordable housing for the elderly and those with developmental disabilities. The apartment property is HUD-subsidized, and the Benton Public Housing Authority places all the residents.

Jones said Civitan Services, which is funded mainly through Medicaid, does hold some fundraisers during the year.

“Our annual golf tournament is coming up in April,” she said. “We will be returning to Longhills Golf Club in Benton. This will be our 21st annual golf tournament. It is open to the public. It is our major fundraiser.

“Another popular fundraiser is our Murder Mystery Dinner, which will be held [Oct. 26], the Thursday before Halloween,” she said. “It will be held at the Benton Event Center. We will work again with The Royal Players, who will perform the whodunit play. That’s been a great partnership for us.

“In the past, we have sponsored a 5K race. This year we are planning something different — a 12K. It will be called The 12 K’s of Christmas. That will be in December. We are still working out the details.”

Jones is also a member of the Benton

Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council.

“I get to work with 10th- through 12th-graders at Benton High School or [students] who live in Benton. They do community-service work,” she said.

“I am also a member of the Bryant/Bauxite Rotary Club and the Saline County Striders (a road-running club),” she said.

“I never ran in high school,” she said, laughing. “If you had told me I would be running now, I never would have believed it. I always walked laps but never ran. I started running in college as a stress reliever.

“I am a long-distance runner. I am by no means fast, but I can endure long runs.”

She and her husband, Cody Jones, often run together. Cody Jones, who is also from Benton, is a staff accountant for the EAST Initiative in Little Rock.

“One of our goals is to run in all 50 states,” Leigh Jones said. “He usually does a full marathon, and I do a half marathon. We have done 19 states. We’ve done Hawaii; we were married there in 2008 and returned there on our fifth anniversary and did the marathon at that time. We ran the Maui Marathon.”

Jones was a member of Kappa Delta

sorority in college and is now a member of its Central Arkansas Alumnae Chapter.

She attends First United Methodist Church, where, she said, her family has attended for several generations.

“My great-grandfather, the late Curtis Williams, was a preacher there,” she said. “The church now has a Williams Preaching Series named after him that brings in visiting pastors.

“My mom and dad both graduated from Benton High School. Mom has worked for the Saline County Library in Benton for over 10 years. She did not start working until I turned 16 and could drive myself. She was ‘the’ homeroom mom,” Jones said.

“She was a great role model for me. She was always volunteering and being involved in the community,” Jones said.

“My whole family believed when you see a need, you do what you can to help … and not just give money. It was never for recognition. … It was to help,” she said.

“For years, my grandmother — my dad’s mother, the late Radie Ann Floyd — sponsored an elementary school girl all the way through high school,” Jones said. “They never met. She worked through the counselor at the girl’s school. If that little girl needed something, Granny would buy it for her.

“So I grew up seeing people help others. It’s just natural for me to get in there and do something when I see a need.”

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