Generosity as communal faith


As the old saying goes, it’s great when a plan comes together. That’s exactly what happened recently with the a fundraising campaign to benefit the Southeast Arkansas College Foundation. As recently reported in the Commercial, the campaign exceeded its initial goal of $32,000 by $22,000.

At a reception held on the SEARK campus to recognize the financial achievement, Foundation board chairman F.M. “Mac” Bellingrath III explained the significance of the total: “When we began efforts to revitalize the foundation we determined that in order to do what needed to be done we should have at least $100,000 available. So we knew we had to raise at least $32,000 to add to the $68,000 that existed at the time that we began our work…The total amount raised came to $54,410 and $37,830 of that has already been donated. We now have over $106,000 in investable funds plus another $17,000 in pledge receivables.”

Bellingrath went on to extoll the importance of SEARK College as an asset to this region of the state. We heartily concur. At a time when there is near unanimity on the importance of having a skilled and educated workforce, institutions such as SEARK will be called upon to help support those needs.

Bellingrath is also correct in his praise for the ever-expanding SEARK campus. In an area of town that has seen better days, SEARK stands as a bastion of order and progress. “Every time I drive down Hazel Street I am reminded of the progress being made here at SEARK with the many new buildings and the growing campus,” Bellingrath said. “But we know that the real proof of the pudding is the students and the graduates. It is their success that will determine the well-being of Southeast Arkansas. Thank you to the people of Pine Bluff for your support and encouragement.”

SEARK President Steve Hilterbran had similarly encouraging words to offer on the occasion: “We are trying to help our students be productive and this foundation and its work goes a long way towards expanding that. There are so many companies doing so much for this institution. It helps us to continue to be relevant and to provide this community with a skilled workforce.”

In his praise, Hilterbran really gets to the core issue: continued relevance. This is a topic with which the whole of Pine Bluff has long struggled. For something approaching three decades we have been in a communal existential crisis. For more than a century we were defined by single dominant economic enterprises: agriculture; transportation; industry…

We no longer have the luxury of such monotonic definitions. In order to survive — to reassert our relevance — we must clearly establish and promote our versatility and our commitments to progress.

Institutions like SEARK are key to achieving those goals. Our schools and colleges are how we showcase our best and brightest students… how we demonstrate our potential and worth for investment.

It is so easy to be distracted by the various problems plaguing our city. It is so easy that we forget the good things. We forget that SEARK’s Foundation goals were attained through acts of personal and corporate generosity. We forget that SEARK exists (and has grown) because we’re interested in providing quality education and training. We forget that we have potential and value.

Hopefully, this fundraising milestone will remind us of all that goodness and more importantly — prompt us to future acts of faith and generosity.