T he modern woman seems to find herself busier than ever these days, running about to fulfill her professional obligations and to make time for her family. However long her to-do list may be, Esther Dixon faces each day thinking not of what she must to do for herself, but how she can help others.
Her Magazine sat down with Dixon this month to find out what drives her and learn about the difference she has made throughout the community. She wears many hats throughout the day as the executive director of Difference Makers Hot Springs, executive director and founder of Diamonds in the Rough, the community resource specialist for AmeriCorps United Way, and a very active member at Eureka Baptist Church. On top of that, she is also supporting her son on his journey to getting his degree.
The common thread binding together her various roles is her passion to connect people in the community with available resources. Her work has led her to collaborate with UAMS, the First Church of the Nazarene, the Hot Springs School District, and the city of Hot Springs. Each facet of her work brings together people and the much-needed resources they would often go without.
“I have always had the heart to serve the community by giving back and helping others, especially through women’s ministry. I learned from my parents and my grandmother to give back and always help others in need,” Dixon said.
You have a lot going on in both your professional and personal life and you appear to stay very busy. Tell us about your involvement in the community and the type of work you do.
Well, first off I am a wife and a mother. My son is graduating this spring from UALR, and he plans to go on to get his doctorate from UCA in the fall. In my professional life, I am the executive director of Difference Makers of Hot Springs, founder and executive director of Diamonds in the Rough of Hot Springs, a transitional
ministry, community resource specialist for AmeriCorps United Way, working closely with the new Arkansas 211 program, and the youth activities coordinator and Sunday school teacher at my church. I stay busy but I really don’t think I would have it any other way. I love what I do.
A common thread throughout your work ties back into helping community members connect with the resources available to them, why did you choose this route when you began searching for ways to serve the community?
In my personal journey, I noticed that there was limited assistance available to help people going through what I experienced during my job displacement. My experiences have made me adequately equipped to share with others that there is hope and to not lose faith in God. I credit a strong faith in God as providing my foundation and supplying everything I needed while going through my own transition.
With my personal story, I had been working with the same company for about 25 years seeing several reorganizations throughout those years, and being affected in different ways each time. My family and I decided against relocating each time being that I was able to find a job within the company each time, but the last time was different. Eventually, I was laid off.
We went from a two-income family to one. I decided to go back to school to learn a new skill set. I started volunteering during this time at one of the local hospitals because I still wanted to give back even during this trying time. I was doing outreach with the Difference Makers of Hot Springs at this time, as well.
It was around then that I began discovering the gaps in service. There was limited assistance for people experiencing what I was going through. I started brainstorming on what I could do to help others like me. That is when I started putting together the program for Diamonds in the Rough to advocate and become a resource, as well as provide empowerment to local women and families that find themselves in similar situations or a family crisis.
How do Diamonds in the Rough and Difference Makers help people in the community find and utilize these resources?
A lot of times, we find that there is a large portion of the community that is totally unaware of the many valuable resources available to them, so a big part of all of this is bridging the gap between the community and these resources. We strive to raise awareness, become advocates and educate our peers.
Diamonds in the Rough is a women’s transitional ministry. I established it to provide support for women and young ladies going through various transitions in their life by providing empowerment and mentoring programs to help the unstable become stable.
When you’re going through a transition it helps to have a bit of extra support. A number of things can shake up your daily routine and cause you to need assistance. Examples are a job change, going back to school, divorce, a death of a family member, relocating to a new area, or release from incarceration.
These are significant changes and milestones that create a shift in the dynamics of your life, and all are underfunded and unaddressed. Through one-on-one case management, peer mentoring, empowerment groups, resource and referral programs, Diamonds in the Rough works to inspire and restore a woman’s faith,
hope, and purpose.
Difference Makers of Hot Springs is a group of like-minded individuals that wants to help the community. We are community advocates for social change and the voice for the voiceless. Advocacy, education and awareness have always been the cornerstones of the organization. We provide awareness to the community through annual events like the Hot Springs community resource fair, health symposiums, health banquets and town talk discussions.
Last year, the Difference Makers revitalized the Hot Springs Community Garden of Hope. The garden sits in an area that is considered a food desert. The people in that area do not have regular access to heart-healthy food due to extenuating circumstances like poverty and lack of reliable transportation to a grocery store that carries an abundance of healthy option.
We were able to harvest three times that season, and many members of the community directly reaped the fruit of our labor. In addition to that, we have done a lot of work with the Hot Springs School District and worked to beautify some of the rundown cemeteries in the area.
Living a healthy lifestyle seems to be one of the focal points of the Difference Makers. Why is that?
You need good health in order to sustain life. If you aren’t healthy, you are not able to make a living. If you aren’t able to work, you can’t provide for yourself and your family. It’s a chain reaction that connects to unemployment and poverty. Public health is a No. 1 goal for the Difference Makers. It encompasses every facet of our organization’s overall goal.
The Difference Makers are a UAMS Transnational Research Community Partner, researching various health issues and the connection with types of foods in various cultures. We are encouraging and incorporating healthy choices into the diets of those in our community. We are also working with UAMS on surveys that we have collected that will transfer into data, so we can begin to address the needs of the community to come up with a proposal to help find solutions to those needs.
We will continue providing the fresh fruits and vegetable through the Garden of Hope, as well as providing educational and nutritional classes to help encourage healthier eating habits. Our goal is to help people find and ways to incorporate other items into their diet instead of only fast food and processed foods.
Health is at the forefront of this movement I’m part of. We want to have a positive impact on the health of our local youth and all throughout the community. In poverty-stricken places, we have found that poor health habits are prominent. By getting people out exercising and learning about how to care for their bodies, we can make a true difference in our community.
What are you hoping to accomplish this year within these organizations?
I would love to see Diamonds in the Rough gain more notoriety, so we can begin offering more services to young women. I have plans to expand the peer mentoring part and hope to see women walking away feeling like they have the tools to succeed in whatever transition they may be experiencing.
As for Difference Makers, we will continue the annual events in addition to diabetes self-management classes. We plan to target a portion of the population that are Medicaid or Medicare eligible with diabetes. Our goal is to assist and educate 100 people through a free six weeks program focusing on changes they can implement in their daily lives which will help stifle the risks associated with diabetes.