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story.lead_photo.caption Logan Russell gets a hug from former Searcy Mayor David Morris after she received the Volunteer of the Year Award on Oct. 29 from the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce. The 73rd annual awards banquet was at the White County Extension Office. “I love networking with people,” Russell said. ( Staci Vandagriff)

Logan Russell, the 2019 Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year, started crying when she gave her acceptance speech at the awards banquet.

“After I spoke and was crying, everybody was standing up. … I was just so humbled by it,” she said. “Searcy, Arkansas, is a big deal to me. Maybe I’m crazy for getting emotional about Searcy.”

It’s her hometown, and the place where she fell in love with patient care when she worked at White County Medical Center, now Unity Health, as a college student and graduate.

Russell, 28, is a community liaison for ARcare, which has federally qualified health centers in three states. She is based in Searcy, where she has worked for the past 3 1/2 years.

Jennifer Skinner, the Searcy Chamber’s public-relations coordinator, said the decision was unanimous to present the Volunteer of the Year Award to Russell at the chamber’s annual awards banquet Oct. 29.

“Everyone who turned in a nomination turned it in for her, which speaks volumes,” Skinner said. All chamber members are eligible to vote on the honor.

Skinner said Russell is “heavily involved” in the community and the chamber.

“She’s an advocate for the chamber and understands what we do and understands how the chamber can make connections in the community,” Skinner said.

Russell said her goal in life is “to connect the unconnected in the community.”

It’s part of her job description to be involved in community organizations, she said.

She is a board member for the White County Literacy Council and Jacob’s Place, a homeless shelter, as well as a new Hispanic nonprofit organization, El Puente.

“Our goal is to get [Hispanics] involved with different events,” she said.

From the queen of volunteering, that should be right down her alley.

She’s also involved in Get Down Downtown, a festival of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce, and is on the Beats and Eats Committee, which organizes a monthly festival in Searcy. She wanted to volunteer at one event, she said, and it turned into serving full time.

Russell said one of the more fun events she’s been involved in was the Small Business Revolution Committee. Searcy won a national, online contest from 12,000 entries to have six of the city’s businesses share in $500,000 worth of improvements and be featured on Small Business Revolution-Main Street, an eight-part online and Hulu series.

She said Mat Faulkner, owner of Think Idea Studio and the one who entered Searcy in the contest, is one of her inspirations.

Faulkner said Russell “has a gift for making others feel good about themselves.”

“Her upbeat and energetic attitude makes her infectious and brings enthusiasm to every effort. She is a connector and brings people together,” he said.

Russell is a graduate of the chamber’s Small Business University and a member of the SBU committee. She’s a 2018-19 graduate of the Searcy Regional Chamber Leadership Searcy Class and serves on the planning committee and as a member of the chamber’s Ambassador Committee.

“Most important to me is church,” she said.

Her husband, Ryan, is associate minister of music at First United Methodist Church in Searcy. They both perform in the praise band — she sings — and she teaches the senior high girls group.

“That’s my heart,” she said. “I remember what it’s like to be that age.”

Russell said she has struggled with trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder, since she was in the eighth grade.

“It’s like biting your nails; I didn’t even know I was doing it,” she said.

Although she was good at hiding it, Russell said, she eventually had to wear a wig. A year ago in November, she spent a month in treatment in Florida.

“I wasn’t taking care of me,” she said. Russell did some soul searching and decided to pare down her long list of groups and organizations.

“When I became more important to myself, I came back and said, ‘This is what I’m serving on.’”

A Harding Academy graduate in Searcy, she went to Crowley’s Ridge College in Paragould with a plan to major in biblical studies and go into youth ministry.

“I would drive home [on the weekends], and I worked at the hospital as an aide on the night shift” on the oncology hospice floor, she said. “I fell in love with patient care.”

Russell said her mother, Nancy Choate of Searcy, is a longtime social worker at the hospital.

After Russell graduated with a degree in biblical studies and got married, she continued to work on the hospice oncology floor at White County Medical Center and switched to the day shift.

“I absolutely loved that,” she said. “I’m an outgoing, extroverted person anyway, but I just have a passion for people, and that was just a great way to serve. I would work overtime; I loved my team. It was so hard for me to leave,” she said, but she wanted to use her college education. “I prayed about it really hard: ‘God, where do you want me?’”

Russell had a friend whose mother was a regional manager through ARcare, so Russell inquired about a job. The ARcare manager asked Russell what she wanted to do, and Russell said her mission was to model Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

“She got kind of teary-eyed and said, ‘Logan, do you know the ARcare mission?’” Russell said. She didn’t.

“That’s when God slapped me in the face,” Russell said. “The woman said, ‘It’s to serve the least, the last and lost.’”

Russell said she had no doubt that ARcare was where she was meant to be.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” she said. “I like to say, ‘We serve the homeless man, Joe, to the CEO.’”

Dr. Steven Collier of Searcy, a family-practice physician and an Augusta native, founded ARcare as White River Rural Health. Russell said she knew Collier from seeing him make rounds at the hospital in Searcy when she worked there. She called him “a visionary” and credits Collier for believing in her and “seeing something in me nobody else did.”

Russell was hired first as a medical secretary in the Searcy office; then Collier made her a community liaison about 1 1/2 years ago.

“He wanted me to join Leadership Searcy, and that opened up a lot of doors for me. And Small Business University through the chamber — that opened up a lot of things. Then I started getting phone calls out of the blue. I wanted to say yes to everything, and I did,” Russell said.

Collier said Russell takes on more than he asks her to.

“She’s full time doing good for others; she just does that seven days a week,” he said. “That’s why I think she’s happy here at ARcare. That fits in with what our mission is — ‘health for all, and helping the least, the last and the lost.’ She is the embodiment of those ideas and values.”

Collier said Russell also sees people whom others turn a blind eye toward.

“In our clinic in Searcy, we do substance-abuse treatment, behavioral health, primary care and see people regardless of their ability to pay. She helps with patients. We’ll identify a population we need to target, Hispanics or those with substance-abuse issues, … and those programs run simultaneously,” he said.

Russell said her goals include finding ways to serve more of White County through ARcare.

“I want to develop more relationships and do what I can do to serve my community,” she said. “I also want to be a leader to somebody else and encourage other people to develop themselves. I don’t like to compete; I love to make people feel good and see them succeed. That’s what I find joy in.”

Russell said she “loves, appreciates and respects” the Searcy Chamber employees. The Volunteer of the Year Award “is not something I worked toward. I just love Searcy,” she said. “I love this town, and because of the amazing chamber of commerce in Searcy, I’ve been blessed by my involvement.”

Collier attended the banquet where Russell received the award, “and I’ll tell you, her speech was emotional, with her dedication, her commitment, and the whole town appreciated her work. She’s not doing it for herself; she’s doing it truly as a servant,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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