For this week’s segment of Hometown Heroes, AY About You sits down with Jessica H. Ford, chief communications officer with Arkansas Community Foundation.
Ford is a native Arkansan with a bachelor’s in Women’s Studies from the University of Wyoming. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for 16 years, starting out as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Ford is a single mom currently about to launch her Catholic High School senior off to college. She teaches yoga once a week in her hometown of Redfield to help her balance the joys of raising a teenager. When not working or watching her son play sports, you can find Ford spending time with her boyfriend, obsessing over her black lab, Otis, or drinking Dr. Pepper. Her biggest personal project recently was starting the first Redfield Christmas Market to rally the sleepy town during the pandemic and to bring the community together for the first large-scale event the town had seen in 35 years.
Prior to joining the Community Foundation, Ford spent 12 years at Heifer International where she piloted Heifer’s first “Women & Global Leadership Development Program” with a one-year assignment to Peru. After her work in Peru, Ford coordinated Heifer’s high profile fundraising events and served as the assistant to the CEO and board liaison. Most recently she served as the director of marketing and engagement. Ford is an alumnus of the Thunderbird School of Global Management’s “Emerging Leaders in the Social Sector” program.
Arkansas Community Foundation’s mission is to engage people, connect resources and inspire solutions to build community.
“We make the largest number of grants in the state with over half a billion in assets. Founded in 1976, the Foundation has provided more than $314 million in grants to nonprofits statewide. We have 29 affiliate offices throughout Arkansas and have made grants in all 75 counties,” Ford shares. “We offer tools and advice, like donor-advised funds and permanent endowments, for Arkansans to direct their charitable dollars to the causes they care about, while helping them learn more about the state’s needs. The Foundation consistently ranks among the top 60 out of more than 800 community foundations in the United States.”
Ford explains that she wanted to work for the Community Foundation not only because of its reputation as the premier choice for Arkansas’ philanthropists and their local impact, but also because of the stellar team that Foundation CEO Heather Larkin leads.
“Working with [Larkin] and the leadership team, including Ashley Coldiron, Sarah Kinser and Corey Moline has taught me so much and is a great privilege. I started at the Foundation four weeks before Arkansas reported its first case of COVID-19. As soon as Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced the Foundation as the best choice for Arkansans to give for pandemic relief we leapt into action,” Ford says. “In the first few months of my job, we raised and granted $3.5 million in funds to 837 Arkansas nonprofits for pandemic relief – unprecedented for the Foundation.”
Ford explains how the pandemic impacted operations.
“Aside from the need to work from home and re-mobilize our grantmaking strategies for pandemic relief, we were ready for the pandemic. We have always been invested in volatility, so the ups and downs of the U.S. economy have less of an impact on our work,” she says. “The Community Foundation was designed to connect those that want to help with those who need it most. The pandemic gave us the chance to prove to our donors, and the nonprofits we serve, that we were ready to step up and help.”
The Community Foundation has steadily built Arkansas communities for 45 years.
“Our state’s leaders, donors and nonprofits all look to us for expert advice in understanding the issues that challenge our state, and help solving those issues through progressive philanthropy,” Ford says. “In five years, that will still be true, but hopefully, more Arkansans will know who we are, what we do, and how easy it is to leave a lasting legacy.”
Arkansas Community Foundation is always looking for new donors, professional advisors and nonprofits to inform their work. The Community Foundation staff are experts in the nonprofit and philanthropy landscapes in Arkansas, but they are always seeking to learn more and grow the Foundation family.
The best way to get involved with the Foundation is to give them a call.
“We can guide anyone with a cause in mind to help donate, volunteer or access data on issues. Those working for or with nonprofits can get help with capacity-building and to find new interested donors. That is what we do — connect resources,” Ford says.
To learn more about Arkansas Community Foundation, be sure to visit its website, or call them at (501) 372-1116.
READ MORE: Hometown Heroes: Jennifer Boyett with the United Way of Central Arkansas