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story.lead_photo.caption James Horton of Searcy is the 2018 president of the United Way of White County Board of Directors. A native of Searcy, Horton began volunteering with the local United Way three years ago. - Photo by William Harvey

James Horton, 38, has known about the United Way of White County for many years.

“I was a Boy Scout,” he said, smiling. The Quapaw Area Council Inc., Boy Scouts of America, is one of the 16 agencies served by the local United Way.

“I was a member from second grade on,” he said. “I earned my Eagle Scout [award] when I was a senior in high school. Boy Scouts has always been special to me.”

Horton’s knowledge of the United Way of White County has grown exponentially since he began volunteering for the agency about three years ago. At that time, he agreed to serve on the board of directors. He is now the 2018 board president.

“James is a fine young man, and I believe that he will seek God’s will as he leads United Way of White County to help provide the 16 agencies with funds needed to service thousands of men, women and children in White County,” said Pat Downs, United Way executive director.

“These services will change the quality of life for those in need,” Downs said.

“I became involved in the United Way of White County when Patrick Stegall, a board member, asked me to volunteer,” said Horton, who is senior vice president of data processing at First Security Bank.

“So between him and Pat Downs, I became involved. Pat Downs and my parents have been friends for a long time, so I have known her for a long time as well,” Horton said.

“I volunteered to be a board member, which I quickly found out meant much more than just attending meetings. Last year, I served as campaign chairman, and now here I am this year, the board president,” he said.

“We are still a little short of our 2018 goal of $400,000,” Horton said, adding that the organization still needs to raise approximately $49,000.

“We have struggled the past few years to reach our goal. I think it’s a combination of things that has led to our donations being down. We had some really good years with the oil and gas boom in our area. Several of those companies were very good supporters, as were their employees. Then when those companies pulled out, that had an impact on our donations,” he said.

“Plus a few businesses have closed or reduced their workforce in the past few years, and that led to reduced contributions or pulling out all together, but things like that cannot be controlled,” Horton said.

“As a board, we need to decide who we are going to be at the United Way of White County,” he said. “We need to determine if we want to continue to grow. … We need to find new ways of campaigning. We need to challenge ourselves to move forward.”

Horton said the board agrees with his thinking.

“We’ve got to make strides,” he said. “We’ve got to do something different. I have been visiting with bank employees in other areas who are involved in United Way efforts in their areas, trying to see what they do. We’ve really got to decide what we can do to become more successful.

“We have some ideas, but nothing in concrete yet.”

Horton said the United Way of White County hosted a true “fundraiser” last summer to kick off the 2018 campaign season.

“Pat Downs came to us with the idea of having a well-known guest speaker come in for a kickoff dinner,” he said. “We hosted Dave Sanderson of the Miracle on the Hudson Flight 1549. It was a lot of work, but it was very successful.

“Pat is is our longtime executive director. She has done a tremendous job for United Way of White County.”

Horton said the organization will begin this year’s allocations in May and is hopeful it will be able to raise the additional funding that is needed.

“We may need to sponsor a last-minute fundraiser,” he said.

In addition to Boy Scouts of America, other United Way of White County agencies include the American Red Cross, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of White County, the Child Safety Center of White County, Girl Scouts of the United States of America, Jacob’s Place, the Literacy Council of White County, Newhope Specialized Industries, Special Olympics, The Sunshine School, the White County 4-H Foundation, the White County Aging Program, White County Domestic Violence Prevention and Rape Crisis, White County Group Homes, the White County Single Parent Scholarship Fund and the Wilbur D. Mills Center.

Horton will serve a one-year term as board president.

“That’s not really long enough,” he said. “Kristen Richardson was the campaign co-chairman when I was chairman last year. She is the chairman for the 2019 campaign, then will be board president. She and I have a really good partnership. We will work together this year and next. I am sure I will continue to work with United Way after my term in office is over. This is a team effort.”

Horton was born in Searcy and graduated from Searcy High school in 1997. He attended Arkansas State University-Beebe for two years, then transferred to Arkansas State University-Jonesboro, where he graduated in 2001 with a degree in marketing with an emphasis in logistics.

“I started college with the idea of becoming an educator. Then I wanted to go into accounting and, later, logistics,” he said.

“It took me a minute to figure out what I wanted to study,” he said, laughing.

He started working at First Security Bank, which is headquartered in Searcy, when he was in high school.

“I worked in the mail room. I stuffed bank statements … delivered mail. Since then, I’ve done just about everything in banking except lend money. I have been at the bank for 20 years,” Horton said.

“I worked in Northwest Arkansas for a while. I got the opportunity to get into operations when a lady was just a few years from retirement. Now I am senior vice president of data processing,” he said.

“We handle data processing for all of our branches across the state — 75 locations, 800 employees,” he said.

“I like what I do … most days,” he said, laughing. “Four managers report to me directly. I oversee 60 to 65 employees. I am on the phone or the computer all day long. I may, or may not, answer the phone at home. I almost never look at the computer when I am home.

“I enjoy what I do now. I enjoy working with First Security and the Rutledge family; Reynie Rutledge of Searcy bought the bank in the late 1970s. It is a privately held company, and his three sons all work in the business. The Rutledges are a very wonderful family; they have been great to work for these past 20 years.”

Horton said he and his family attend St. Paul United Methodist Church in Searcy.

“I am very active at church,”

he said. “I am there two or three nights a week. I am on the Finance Committee and on the board of directors for the Little Saints Child Development Center. Both of my kids go there.”

Horton may already be teaching his daughter, Bella, about the United Way of White County.

“She has joined 4-H,” he said, noting that the White County 4-H Foundation is one of the agencies served by the United Way of White County.

“She was asked to write a paragraph about ‘What is 4-H?’” he said. “It took her about a week, but she did it all herself. All she asked me was how to spell a few words.

“She is so excited about 4-H. I am proud that she is part of an organization that is teaching her to be a productive citizen in our community and a good steward of the resources that we are provided, just as we strive to be in United Way.”

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