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League of Historic American Theatres CEO to deliver keynote at Historic Theaters Conference

Ken Stein, president and CEO of the League of Historic American Theatres, will deliver the keynote address at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference, which will be held Thursday, Aug. 10, and Friday, Aug. 11. The conference represents a partnership between the Rockefeller Institute, the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council and the city of Morrilton.

Stein, an expert in preservation, fundraising, marketing and management within the arts, will speak about “The Power of the Historic Theatre,” which will explore a case study of a historic theater in Austin, Texas, that went from bankruptcy to being the most profitable arts organization in Texas’s capitol in just three years.

Stein has more than 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and has raised more than $100 million in his work for various organizations.

“Ken’s vast experience in marketing arts organizations and his proven record of success make him an ideal keynote speaker for the Historic Theaters Conference,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “His insights will be invaluable to our participants in their efforts to preserve and expand their local historic theaters.”

Stein will deliver his presentation at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10. The Historic Theaters Conference aims to equip engaged staff, volunteers and other interested people to preserve, promote and prosper the 22 historic theaters in Arkansas, as well as historic theaters in neighboring states. Registration, which includes the conference, overnight lodging at the Rockefeller Institute and all meals, is $75 for the first person from each community or organization and $50 for subsequent registrants from the same community or organization. More information and a link for registration can be found at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/theaters.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Morrilton’s Rialto Theatre undergoes epic transformation through the years

The Hollywood stars who once graced its screen may be gone with the wind (if you’ll forgive the play on words), but the Rialto Theatre still remains a gem in downtown Morrilton today. Actually, the story of the theater — with its myriad stops and starts, and especially its survival in the face of long odds — would arguably be worthy of the sweeping epics that used to screen there.

Not so long ago it appeared the more-than-100-year-old landmark had outlived its relevance: doomed to the same finale as countless aging buildings before it. In the 1990s, the Rialto was slated for demolition – to make room for a parking lot. Progress, it seemed, had caught up with the Rialto and left it behind. Movie-goers had long ago moved onto bigger multiplexes, larger screens and state-of-the-art surround sound.

Rialto-old

The first film showed at the Rialto in 1911. In the 1950s, the building was gutted and seating increased. It reopened to great acclaim with a showing of Lovely to Look At, starring Kathryn Grayson and Red Skelton. In the 1970s, it was again modified to keep up with the times and was converted to three screens. It didn’t last, however, and the following decade, the once-grand theater was shut down.

For years, the Rialto sat there boarded up and empty — a deteriorating relic whose golden age had played out its run. Enter our hero in this script.

Lindell Roberts wasn’t the only person who helped save the Rialto, but if this were one of those “based-on-a-true-story” movies, this gregarious Morriltonian would undoubtedly play a leading role.

“When I would drive through downtown, I would look at it (the Rialto) and think, ‘We need to turn that into a performance theater.’ This was around 1995,” Roberts recounted one morning from the sidewalk outside the Rialto. Occasionally people would honk and wave as they drove past.

“Then one day, our new mayor at the time, Stewart Nelson, called me up and asked, ‘What would you think about making the old Rialto into a performance theater?,’” Roberts recalled between waves. “I said, ‘When do you want to start?’”

And like those feel-good celluloid stories that never get old, hard-working members of the community came together to bring the regal lady back to life. Most of the early labor was made up entirely of volunteers, Roberts said. Improved lighting was installed, a new stage was built and a proscenium added. A capital improvement grant helped renovate the building next door, which became a connected art gallery. A donor, Afton King, paid for the installation of the necessary dressing rooms for performers. A local artist even came in to restore the murals along the walls of the main seating hall that were added in 1952 when the theater was beginning its second life.

“When The Rep (in Little Rock) did their renovation, they gave us the seats that came out of the theater,” Roberts said, recalling just how broad the backing for this success story has been. “We have great community support for this theater. A lot of towns our size don’t have something like this (a downtown theater).”

Current Morrilton Mayor Allen Lipsmeyer agrees. “I’ve been to cities all over Arkansas that deeply regret tearing down their downtown theater,” he said. “In fact, cities are now building replicas of historic theaters. We did a good thing preserving this piece of history. No one regrets saving history.”

Roberts helped create the Rialto Community Arts Center Board, under the auspices of the Arts Council of Conway County, to manage the renovation and operation of the theater, which is now called the Rialto Community Arts Center. He was the first president and currently serves as chairman. The reopened 400-seat venue hosted its first performance in 2000 and has been used frequently ever since for a variety of plays, concerts, murder-mystery dinners and, of course, films, such as the classic Gone with the Wind, which was screened a few years ago. Next door — formerly a hardware store — houses a meeting center (complete with a full kitchen) and an art gallery, which varies its exhibits every few months.

This type of success story is part of what will be highlighted at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference on Aug. 10-11. The conference, which only costs $75 to attend (includes lodging and meals), will feature experts in historic preservation, fundraising and art as a method of community and economic development. It will also include time for networking among people who are all passionate about ensuring their community’s historic theater has its own success story.

Most seem to agree that Morrilton isn’t ready for the credits to roll on the Rialto, a true historic Arkansas landmark.

“Art is a part of what makes communities unique, and artists bring with them passion,” Lipsmeyer said. “I like knowing we have a space for our citizens to enjoy art, perform, celebrate, demonstrate and show their talent. I believe art will be a vital part of our downtown revitalization.

“We are a better city because of the Rialto.”

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Leading the way

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute was proud to send Janet Harris, director of programs, to participate in the 2016-17 session of Leadership Arkansas. Leadership Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, provides an immersive experience for up-and-coming leaders in Arkansas to learn and grow in their leadership capacity.

Institute Executive Director Dr. Marta Loyd had this to say about Janet's experience:

"Upon nominating Janet for Leadership Arkansas, I knew the experience would be a win-win-win. I was not disappointed in that it was a win for Janet - she grew professionally and personally and built lasting relationships across the state. It was a win for Leadership Arkansas - Janet is intellectually curious and has a sharp mind. I am certain the class benefited greatly by her participation. And it was a win for the Institute - Janet was able to spread the word to class XI about our compelling mission and the good work we are doing here. I am proud of Janet for her commitment to the program and congratulate her on making the most of the opportunity."

Janet recently responded to some questions we had about her experience.

Q: What expectations did you have going into Leadership Arkansas? How did the experience compare to your initial expectations?

A: Having formerly traveled the state extensively as a leader in state government, I looked forward to engaging with private sector leaders from the perspective of the Institute, learning more about their successes and hearing their perspective on Arkansas’ workforce development challenges. The experience exceeded my expectations in that regard, particularly in the way that we were welcomed into each community and allowed access to “behind-the-scenes” operations at some of our state’s leading industries and the candid conversations we were able to have with them. Arkansas is such a diverse state, with each of our regions having unique strengths and opportunities for growth.  I found the experience of meeting those local leaders and spending time with them in their communities to be invaluable. 

Q: What is one or more things you learned about Arkansas, business or leadership that you did not know before LA?

A: We had some wonderful leadership and personal development sessions during the program. The ones that stand out the most are the visioning and leadership exercises we participated in at Crystal Bridges, where we were encouraged to think about leadership through our experience with art, and our last session with Dr. Jeff Standridge, who tailored a leadership exercise for us that really caused me to think deeply about my personal and professional goal-setting.

Q: Describe one of your favorite memories from your experience.

A: The state government and military session held at the State Capitol and at Little Rock Air Force Base, respectively, were my favorite sessions. We held a mock legislative session at the Capitol, which for me felt like coming home after my years in state government. Gen. Joe Wilson, a class member of ours, was such a gracious host at the LRAFB, and not only were we given a fantastic behind-the-scenes tour of the base, but we also had a chance to fly on a C-130, which was quite the thrill. I even managed to keep down my lunch! Overall, though, the connections and friendships I made with my classmates will be what I value most in the years to come. We had a great time getting to know one another and developed a deep respect for the work that we are each doing in our communities.

Q: How will your class of LA stay connected and engaged?

A: We have appointed two dynamic class representatives who are already finding opportunities for us to reconnect with each other. Thanks to the leadership of class member Mark Scott of Walmart, we are having a bonus session in Bentonville later in July. And, I am so pleased that Leadership Arkansas Class XII will host their opening session at the Institute, where I will be helping out as an alum. We have a Facebook group where we keep up with each other’s professional accomplishments and family news, and we have committed to participating as alums together for various other Class XII sessions. I am hoping that we can bring Leadership Arkansas alumni to the mountain for a summit-style working session like we do for our Under 40 Leaders, so that we can continually keep this group of professionals engaged in contributing to solutions for Arkansas.

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Under 40 Forum report touts ways to heal state’s ‘fractures’

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 30, 2017) — The 2017 Under 40 Forum report was released this morning by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The report is being mailed to political, business and community leaders across the state and can be viewed online at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/2017under40report.

The report summarizes the discussions that took place March 2-3 at the Rockefeller Institute at the Under 40 Forum, which invited all 40 Under 40 honorees as designated by the two business publications in 2016 to engage in meaningful dialogue to address “Fractured Arkansas.” The topic sought to explore the various divisions – social, economic, cultural, political, etc. – that divide the state and hinder progress, and to offer solutions to those challenges.

A group of the 2017 Under 40 Forum participants met earlier today with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to discuss the report and expand on their findings.

“After my meeting with the Under 40 honorees at the Capitol on Tuesday morning, I am more confident than ever about the future of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “This generation of leaders have big ideas and the commitment to service that will help bring the ideas into reality. I applaud them for their hard work and clear thinking.”

One of the key issues identified in the report is a need for alternative approaches to education.

“It’s no surprise that education was a key part of the discussion at the Under 40 Forum,” said Dr. Marta Loyd, executive director of the Rockefeller Institute. “This topic was a highlight of their meeting with the governor. They championed a greater commitment to internships and mentorships for high school students. Building bridges between the business community and our schools was a clear priority.”

Another key theme of the report is leadership in cultural competency.

“The need for better understanding across cultural gaps is pretty clear,” said Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. “It was encouraging to have this impressive group of young leaders, from various cultural backgrounds, all working together and all willing to be honest with the governor about what they think is important.”

One of the recommendations in the report is for cultural competency to become a priority not just in the more populated portions of the state, but also in small towns and in corporate board rooms.

The Under 40 Forum began in 2016 as a partnership between the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. It was supported this year by Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Simmons Bank, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Clinton School.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre returns to Winthrop Rockefeller Institute June 24 with The Taming of the Shrew

Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre returns to Winthrop Rockefeller Institute June 24 with The Taming of the Shrew

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 26, 2017) — The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre will return to Petit Jean Mountain for the fourth straight year with a performance of the Shakespeare classic The Taming of the Shrew. The free, family-friendly performance will be held Saturday, June 24, on the front lawn of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

The performance of The Taming of the Shrew will cap off an afternoon of fun at the Rockefeller Institute, beginning with a free Shakespearean language workshop for ages 10 and older at 4:30 p.m. that will be led by Chad Bradford, director of The Taming of the Shrew. Following the workshop, visitors will have the chance to dine outdoors on the Institute’s lawn. Visitors may bring their own picnic dinner or purchase food from food trucks that will be on hand. The performance will then follow at 7 p.m.

“We look forward to this performance every year,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “Given his commitment to the arts and community engagement, we know Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller would be proud of this event.”

The Taming of the Shrew follows the tale of Petruchio as he tries to win the heart of “Kate the Curst.” The performance will include plenty of audience participation, sure to delight viewers of all ages.

“This play promises to be a lot of fun,” said Dr. Mary Ruth Marotte, executive director of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. “Our experience at the Institute grows a little each year, and adding the workshop this year will provide yet another way for our audience to engage with Shakespeare.”

While admission is free, advance registration is required. For more information, including a link for registration, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/taming. Questions about the performance should be directed to Program Officer Payton Christenberry at pchristenberry@uawri.org.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Historic Theaters Conference to lift up ‘artistic lifeblood of community’

Historic Theaters Conference to lift up ‘artistic lifeblood of community’

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 17, 2017) — Historic theaters are far more than old buildings that represent a bygone era. For many small towns, they remain important centers of artistic activity.

That concept is the theme behind the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference, which will be held Thursday, Aug. 10, through Friday, Aug. 11, at the Institute on Petit Jean Mountain. The Rockefeller Institute is partnering with the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council and the City of Morrilton to present the conference.

“Historic theaters are often the artistic lifeblood of a community, and there are many ways to leverage their influence and preserve their future,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “We look forward to sharing some of those strategies and re-energizing the efforts of those who care about historic theaters in Arkansas and in our neighboring states.”

The conference will bring in outside speakers to discuss a variety of topics, including innovative ways to utilize historic theaters that engage communities in new ways and also contribute to a theater’s sustainability. On this topic, the Rockefeller Institute will lead by example with a special art display that will be announced in the coming weeks.

Other topics include fundraising, marketing, preservation and more. In addition to hearing from key experts, the conference will include ample opportunities for those working on and passionate about historic theaters to network and share success stories.

“Historic theaters are frequently an important piece of a downtown renaissance,” said Stacy Hurst, Department of Arkansas Heritage director. “We feel this is an opportunity to help communities learn the value these historic theaters hold as resources for redevelopment and community revitalization.”

The conference is open to anyone who is interested in historic theaters, community arts programs and/or historic preservation. Admission for the conference, which covers registration, meals and lodging at the Rockefeller Institute’s premiere conference center, is $75 per person. After one person has registered representing a historic theater, community and/or arts organization, each additional person representing that same entity will be discounted to $50.

For more information, a conference agenda and a link for registration, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/theaters.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Addressing a looming crisis

Rural health care in Arkansas is an ever-evolving, complex system. There are many different branches of a multitude of organizations all working toward the same goal: a healthier rural population. From local faith-based organizations providing weekly check-ins on elderly residents all the way to statewide initiatives working at the policy level to help provide more resources and support to rural Arkansas, all the stakeholders are doing what they can to move the needle in their own ways.   

Dr. Mark Jansen

As with any complex system, however, there are many challenges and crises facing rural health that extend beyond what any one organization can do on their own. Mark T. Jansen, M.D., medical director of UAMS regional programs, made that clear to us when he approached us about a looming crisis in rural Arkansas: a rapidly aging population and decreasing number of practicing rural doctors. It was clear to Dr. Jansen and to us that there would be no silver bullet solution to the problem and that diverse solutions required a diverse set of minds to develop.

Following what we call the “Rockefeller ethic,” we sought to find those innovative and collaborative solutions to the impending crisis by calling together the experts and stakeholders in rural health from around Arkansas. Forty-six participants answered the call and attended the inaugural Rural Health Summit on March 23-24. The Summit members represented major health institutions, places of higher learning, state organizations, municipalities, health clinics, membership organizations and beyond. Each organization represented is working on improving rural health in their own way, but the Summit participants took it a step further by giving their time and applying their unique expertise to closely examine the existing and upcoming gaps in service delivery and plot a collaborative course to better health care in rural Arkansas.

Rural Health Summit

Those 46 Summit members put in an astounding effort during the noon-to-noon Summit, producing a list of resources, needs and critical questions about rural health care across the state in six different regions (northwest, north central, northeast, southeast, southwest and central Arkansas). The Summit members produced a list of over 120 services and resources currently available, compiled more than 140 needed services and resources, and identified 27 service and need areas that require closer scrutiny.

Beyond all of the impressive data they provided, the best part about the commitment of the Summit members is that they will be actively addressing those need areas beyond the Summit itself. During the Summit they selected a 12-member COMMITtee that will work with us at the Institute to see where the larger group can make the most impact. We’ll meet with the COMMITtee bi-monthly for the rest of the year to make sense of all the data, bring in new Summit members and start filling the gaps in rural Arkansas health care through a collaborative effort. 

It is a phenomenal privilege to work with people who not only dedicate their careers to improving Arkansas health care, but who also find time outside of their normal duties to see where they can help more. I also want to extend special thanks to Dr. Jansen and the Blue & You Foundation. The Summit was designed in partnership with Dr. Jansen, who also sponsored a portion of the Summit as the invested chair for the Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, George K. Mitchell, M.D., Endowed Chair in Primary Care. The initial Summit and follow-up activities are also made possible in part through a grant from the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas.   

I look forward to continuing our work with this great group of dedicated individuals to positively impact rural health in Arkansas.

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Our own version of March Madness

March came shooting out of a cannon at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. We put on four programs in March, up from our typical 1-2 per month schedule that we typically adhere to.

We kicked off the month with the second annual Under 40 Forum, which brought some of the state’s brightest young leaders, as designated by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal and Arkansas Business, together for a  two-day facilitated discussion on the fractures that divide our state and ways to heal them. The Forum is held in conjunction with the Clinton School of Public Service. One the participants – Eric Wilson, CEO of Noble Impact – offered this feedback on the Forum: “Every state has a 40 Under 40 list, and most of them are photo opportunities and a happy hour. But here in Arkansas, we’re trying to do something more. Instead of just taking a photo, we’re getting everybody together in a room and asking them to discuss some of the biggest challenges facing our state.”

A report detailing the group’s findings is forthcoming and will be distributed to leadership across the state in government, business and communities.

Then about a week later on a cool spring day, more than 65 participants gathered at the Institute for the Business Workshop for Landowners. Part of a partnership with Mississippi State University’s Natural Resource Enterprise Program and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, the workshop provided experts with in-the-field knowledge on how to manage the land and look at their land with a different focus.

The morning session included a field tour just a short drive from the Institute on the property of Mr. Henry Jones. The property included 288 acres of short-leaf pine and hardwoods. The property has been in Mr. Jones’ family since 1884 and started out as a cotton field and evolved through the years to some timber property and space for the family to hunt and experience nature. During the field tour, participants enjoyed talks from wildlife biologists, foresters and Mr. Jones discussing the history of the property and different forestry management techniques such as thinning to improve forest stands and disking for wildlife. Mr. Jones was able to show his success after implementing these techniques in one year’s time: a quail covey established on the west end of his property. 

After lunch, attendees heard talks on recreational enterprise opportunities, legal liability issues and estate planning. We sold out the event this time and already have folks asking about the next workshop. We hope to have another one in the fall, with an announcement coming late spring or early summer.

The following day, on March 10, we held our ninth Uncommon Communities training. Uncommon Communities is our community and economic development program done in partnership with Dr. Vaughn Grisham, the Cooperative Extension’s Breakthrough Solutions program and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s School of Public Affairs. In this session, our five participating counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – were coached in quality of place and placemaking.

Representatives from Yell County presented to the group their plans for downtown revitalization in Dardanelle. These plans include installation of a hammock park, a dog park, historical re-enactments, bike and walking trails, a Native American heritage museum and more.

Finally, on March 23-24, we held our Rural Health Summit (pictured above), which convened health care leaders from across the state to identify gaps and opportunities related to health care in rural areas. This is the first wide-scale effort to address this pressing need. The Institute will soon report out to the group with a summary of their recommendations, and a group of volunteers from among the participants will work to begin implementing some of those recommendations and identifying other partners to join for another summit in late 2017 or early 2018. This effort has the potential to provide higher quality and more access to care for our state’s rural populations, all through the power of collaboration and cooperation.

There’s lots more to come in 2017 for the Institute, including our Art in its Natural State competition, which kicked off in February, and our annual performance of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. We’re relieved that the March Madness is behind us and are ready to take on the next challenges.

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A culture of support

Sasha Cerrato is the creative director for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. On March 28, she spoke alongside Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson and others at the Arkansas State Capitol in support of Breastfeeding Awareness Day. The following is part of the story she shared that day.

I’m a full-time working mother of two beautiful girls, the youngest of which was born 18 months ago, about 2 ½ years after I started working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

When my first daughter was born, I was working at a different company and had limited success in breastfeeding because it was difficult to balance my work schedule with my pump schedule.

During my second-born’s pregnancy, I was determined to do a better job at managing that balance and have more success with breastfeeding.

The thing I never expected was that this time my employer was eager to help me make it work, too.

I live in Little Rock, but the Institute is about an hour’s commute on Petit Jean Mountain. On my first day back our executive director pulled me aside and told me to do what I needed to do. She recognized how hard the transition would be and encouraged me to take the time I needed to make it work for both the Institute and my family.

Shortly after, our director of communications and marketing, my boss, switched our weekly marketing meeting to a time that better suited my pump schedule, and continued to refer to that schedule for future meetings and events.

Examples like these over the nine months that I pumped while working at the Rockefeller Institute are numerous and came from every level of our company.

The fact is, there is nothing about pumping that is easy. In addition to nursing in the morning and before bed, I had to pump four times a day for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time to inch out the milk it took to sustain my daughter while I was at work. And frankly, the only reason I was able to keep that baby on breastmilk through her first year was because the company I worked for supported me in doing it. The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute saw the value in a mother providing the best nutrition I could for my child. They saw the value in supporting a young family. And that meant doing much more than simply following the letter of the law. There’s a big difference between providing space and providing support. The Institute showed me that difference, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I’ve been blessed to gain a lot of good experience throughout my career, and I’m to a point now that I know I have options should I choose to look for another opportunity. But any time I’ve toyed with the idea of a new career — maybe something closer to home, slightly better pay, etc. — I think about the culture at the Institute, and the support I receive there, and I realize that they’ve made it so I don’t want to leave. They have earned a devoted employee.

And that is far from unique. Study after study shows that family-friendly work cultures increase employee retention, benefit organizational citizenship behavior, and improve work attitudes.

What I hope my story does is present a challenge: What can we be doing to support one another and encourage family-friendly cultures and policies in our respective work spaces? In my mind at least, the question is vital not only to individual families, but to society as a whole.

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Breastfeeding in Arkansas is gaining momentum

The winds of change are blowing in Arkansas when it comes to breastfeeding.

Our state is routinely near the bottom of the country when it comes to the percentage of mothers who breastfeed, but recent efforts promise a brighter future for Arkansas’ nursing moms.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to speak alongside First Lady Susan Hutchinson and state Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) at the State Capitol to commemorate the state’s Breastfeeding Awareness Day as proclaimed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Rep. Bentley organized the event along with Healthy Active Arkansas to draw attention to Arkansas’ laws regarding breastfeeding in public and in the workplace.

In my 20-plus years working as a lactation consultant, I have seen great strides made in understanding, technology and policy regarding breastfeeding. There are many more resources for nursing mothers now than when I first started, and I’m excited to see more and more mothers take advantage of the support that is available.

As the team lead of the Healthy Active Arkansas Breastfeeding priority, I also had the privilege of attending a press conference announcing and celebrating the Baby Friendly designation of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville on Feb. 14. This press conference and celebration, which was also attended by Mrs. Hutchinson, were important because those two birthing hospitals are the first Baby Friendly designated hospitals in Arkansas.

Only 417 U.S. hospitals and birthing centers in 49 states and the District of Columbia hold the Baby Friendly designation. More than 20 percent of annual births (approximately 807,500 births) occur at these Baby Friendly-designated facilities. Every hospital that attains the Baby Friendly designation moves us closer to meeting important public health goals of increasing the proportion of live births that occur in facilities that provide recommended care for lactating mothers and their babies. In 2007, only 2.9 percent of U.S. births occurred in Baby Friendly-designated facilities. The Healthy People 2020 goal is 8.1%.

After the press conference last month, the leadership team and committee members of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville met with Baby Friendly team members from several of the other hospitals around our state that are currently working toward this prestigious and important designation. The information they shared with us was invaluable. They reviewed common roadblocks and solutions and provided needed encouragement for the challenges that will be faced in obtaining designation. With the leadership of our two designated hospitals, and the support of Healthy Active Arkansas, there will be six additional Baby Friendly hospitals in Arkansas within the next two years! 

The Baby Friendly journey creates an environment that is supportive of best practices in maternity care and of optimal infant feeding. The 4–D Pathway is a fit for all institutions; large and small hospitals, for profit and not-for-profit hospitals, teaching hospitals, and hospitals at various stages of development in their breastfeeding support programs. If you would like more information on how your birthing facility can make a commitment to improve infant feeding policies, training and practices by embarking on the 4-D pathway to Baby Friendly designation, visit the Baby Friendly USA website.

Jessica Donahue is a registered nurse and lactation consultant for Baptist Health in Little Rock, Ark. She serves as the breastfeeding priority area lead for Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide health initiative that both Baptist Health and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute helped launch.

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