HER Ca­reer

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents -

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.

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