For this week’s Hometown Heroes, AY About You sits down with Brooke Edwards from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Edwards moved to Little Rock when she was 9 and has lived here most of her life. Edwards went to UCA for college and earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Edwards shares that she is a single mom to two kids, ages 8 and 12, and that their family “has more pets than seems reasonable.” Edwards has tended to her growing hobby of caring for houseplants.
“I’ve gotten into houseplants over the past few years. I love having so much green inside my house, and I have better luck keeping plants alive when they’re indoors,” Edwards says. “I also love traveling, horseback riding and listening to audiobooks. My most recent destination was Colorado; I’ve found a place to ride horses near Pinnacle Mountain; and I recently finished listening to Cast Under an Alien Sun, by Olan Thorensen, which is about as odd as it sounds.”
Edwards tells us more about her organization.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) was founded in 1977 and has provided leadership, research and advocacy to promote wide-ranging reforms that have improved the lives of Arkansas’s children for more than 40 years.
“Our key issue areas include child welfare, democracy and voting rights, early childhood and k-12 education, family economic and food security, access to health care, immigrant families, juvenile justice, racial equity, and state tax and budget issues,” she says. “Having access to health insurance, paid sick leave and economic security are some things many of us take for granted. We work with partners, coalitions and state leaders to push for new laws and policies to help every Arkansan have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives and realize their full potential. Over the past several years, we have intentionally worked on embedding racial equity into everything we do. We are committed to amplifying the voices and wisdom of those most directly affected by systemic oppression, with a focus on building a more equitable and inclusive Arkansas to truly serve every child and family.”
Edwards tells us more about how she got involved in the organization.
“My introduction to AACF was as a 4th grader attending my first Little Rock Soup Sunday at the old Cajun’s Wharf restaurant. Soup Sunday is AACF’s largest fundraiser and a great family friendly event. When I was in graduate school for social work, I knew I wanted to work on changing systems that affect children, so I did my concentration year in Management and Community Practice and got an internship with AACF for the year. After grad school, though, my career path took me into the nonprofit communications field, rather than public policy. More than 12 years after my internship, I was hired at AACF as their communications director, which has been my biggest career success so far. I’ve worked in this role since October 2018, and I handle everything from our public relations and website content to social media and publications.”
Edwards discusses some of the challenges that the organization faces.
“It is really challenging to get the kinds of policies we want to help Arkansas’s children and families passed these days. Everyone wants Arkansas to be an amazing place to live and raise a family, but not everyone agrees on the best ways to make that vision a reality,” she says. “We have evidence-based solutions to a lot of problems in the state: make it easier for Arkansans to access health care, close tax loopholes to pay for infrastructure and community supporting services, equitably fund our public schools, etc. But getting legislation passed to progress these solutions has been difficult, to say the least.”
Edwards explains the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on operations.
“Things did not slow down for us when the pandemic hit. From the very beginning, we tracked state and federal policy responses to the virus. We continued our diligent efforts to provide research-based policy analysis and recommendations for Arkansas’s lawmakers and fellow advocates on a range of topics. We focused on both short-term and long-term policies, to better position Arkansas’s families for success throughout the pandemic and once it is over.”
Edwards shares that the biggest operational change was AACF staff working from home for the duration of 2020.
“We are still primarily working remotely, with a plan to reopen the office officially mid-July. Of course, fundraising has looked very different in the pandemic, both in terms of foundation funding and individual gifts. And to keep our staff safe and follow public health precautions, we’ve had to change how we approach our advocacy work.”
We asked Edwards where she sees herself and her organization in the next five years.
“Communication is a key tool in advocating for public policy changes. In five years, I’d like to have matured our communications and digital advocacy so that more and more Arkansans are engaging in pushing for progress,” Edwards says. “I want more people to know good policy ideas when they see them and how to take steps to help make those ideas happen. We’ve grown our online audiences exponentially over the past few years, and we continue to hone our strategies to turn those audiences into advocates.”
AACF has a host of upcoming events.
“After successfully hosting three major events virtually, we are thrilled to be planning our Friends of Children Annual Luncheon in October 2021, and our Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock Soup Sunday events in early 2022 in person,” Edwards says. “These events are how we celebrate our work and the work of others, and how we spend time in community with our supporters. We will also continue offering virtual policy events for people who want to learn more about how to advocate for a better Arkansas.”
You can check out Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families’ upcoming events here.