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story.lead_photo.caption Denice Eaves serves as the executive director for the White County affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation. She said the best way to learn about a community is to volunteer. ( Staci Vandagriff)

For 12 years, Denice Eaves was the White County Safe Kids Coalition director, and she was in that position until Unity Health ended the program. So when the opportunity to be the executive director for the White County Community Foundation came available last year, she jumped at the chance.

“When this opportunity came up, it spoke to me,” Eaves said. “It’s a heart job for me. I love being out in the community. … I did a lot of volunteering in my 30s and 40s, so this is just a perfect fit for me. It has been a blessing.”

As a volunteer, Eaves served on the Junior Auxiliary and White County Domestic Violence Protection Inc. in Searcy. At one time, she also served as Parent Teacher Organization president and helped with the Imagine and Belief Foundation for foster and adoptive families.

She was officially hired by the Community Foundation in July of last year, so it has not quite been a year yet. After working for the Safe Kids Coalition and before being employed by the foundation, Eaves worked for four years at a country club office — she has a background in graphic design and office management.

“She has a real passion for doing good in the community and helping others,” said Dewey Shanks, who serves on the foundation’s board and was part of the hiring committee. “She is very energetic, and she believes in our cause and the good it does in our community.”

He said one of the things that stood out to him about Eaves is her connections in the community.

“Her personality is extremely good, and she has strong social-media skills, so we thought it would be an enhancement to our organization,” Shanks said. “She seemed very organized and detailed, and those are the things that stood out to us.

“As far as the one-on-one conversations that she has to have with these donors and charitable givers, she is good in those conversations.”

Eaves is originally from the Arlington, Texas, area, but she and her husband, Les, moved to Searcy 22 years ago. Les is originally from Conway but grew up in Newport. He is also a Republican member of the Arkansas House of Representatives.

“My father was in the service, and he was always about helping people in the community,” she said. “My parents instilled that into me growing up. I came from a big metroplex to this small town.

“The best way to learn the community is to do what I grew up doing. I started to see where I could help out and branch out and meet people. It fulfilled something in me, being new to the community.”

Eaves said she eventually brought her kids into it so they could learn about giving back and being involved. One of her daughters is now involved in the Junior Auxiliary, so Eaves said that makes her heart happy.

As executive director for the White County affiliate, the majority of her job is helping nonprofits in the community. She said she works with the board of directors and assists nonprofits.

“We have a yearly event as a foundation, for local nonprofits to apply for grants to help with their funding,” she said. “[The grants] could assist with animal welfare, food pantries or grade-level reading. There are different types of nonprofits in White County, and we want to distribute funds to help those nonprofits.

“We also do scholarships for kids in high school or those in college who need help with grad school. I also help people who are invested in the community and coordinate the right funds for people who are interested in doing so.”

She said she helps distribute the organization’s contributions in the community. The most recent White County Giving Tree grants included those to Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home, the Bald Knob Public Schools, the Beebe Badger Family Food Pantry, The CALL of White County, the Community Action Program of Central Arkansas and many others.

“She has recommended and pushed us to [give out] some grants, especially some hunger-grant opportunities. She has been very proactive on her part,” Shanks said.

“Normally, we have our Giving Tree grant program that comes around once a year. We grant about $25,000 a year to several different nonprofits within our county, then hold back a little bit of money for needs within the community,” he said.

“There are a lot of nonprofits that most people don’t know exist, and we are able to guide them and help people with the funds needed,” Eaves said. “It has opened me up to so many things that I wasn’t aware of.

“With social media and interaction with the board, we are trying to get the word out for all of these nonprofits. We guide people and let them connect — it is a big network that we are trying to connect, on top of the funding and the assistance.”

She said that after the shutdown of businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was working with the Youth Advisory Council for the Harding Academy School District. She said she is teaching the council about philanthropy and how the grant process works, and “they choose the applications while we are in quarantine.”

“I’m in the process right now of evaluating some COVID-19 relief grants, and the foundation has offered food-security grants, and we are going to evaluate those next week,” she said. “We want to make sure those in need have food security for the next month or so, while all of this is going on.

“We have helped several food pantries through different churches in just four or six weeks.”

For more information, visit www.arcf.org or call (501) 251-3012.

Eaves said working for the foundation makes her feel good and gives her a purpose.

“I’m at a stage in my life when I want to be working a job that makes me feel good and reflects on my grandkids,” Eaves said. “I feel more upbeat and happy in my life. There is just a difference.

“Doing good in the community is a selfish act because it makes you feel good, and I get more out of it by seeing other people happy.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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