By Barrett Gay | Photography by Rett Peek | Wardrobe from Greenhaw’s Men’s Wear | Shot on location at Argenta Community Theater
Chris Shenep is a fan of his hometown — so much so that his friends at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville awarded him the nickname “Little Rock.” More than just a fan, Chris dedicates his time around the clock to helping the Capital City and its residents thrive. At Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled, Chris is committed to the organization’s mission: empowering individuals with disabilities to be independent, active community members. As business development and marketing director, Chris shares AEDD’s programs + services and measurable results with constituents throughout the community – garnering heartfelt support and enthusiasm.
Throughout the years, Chris has had several mentors whose example of civic leadership and dedication to Arkansas he wanted to follow. “I’d always seen my parents really involved in the community and in our church,” he recalls. “That had become engrained in me, and I wanted to give back, volunteer and lead efforts in Fayetteville.” After graduation, he worked as the personal aide to Governor Beebe. “I admire the Beebes so much for their passion for the state of Arkansas and all they’ve done over the years to selflessly give to so many causes. I think it really just taught me a lot about Arkansas and the people who live here.”
With undeniable charisma and an affinity for making things happen, Chris discovered the world of fundraising through his involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas. At the heart of its mission, BBBSCA improves the lives of children through meaningful one-on-one relationships – providing mentors who help teach them integrity + responsibility to become successful adults. Chris had a “little brother” with whom he was paired for six years and had an idea to raise money for the organization. While working for Governor Beebe, he voluntarily coordinated “Biking for Bigs,” a bike ride event for “bigs + littles” and novice to expert cyclists, that generated $10,000 for BBBSCA. He also partnered with Recycle Bikes for Kids, providing bicycles to children who didn’t have one. Chris says the best part about the experience was “seeing the smile on my little brother’s face.”
This experience led to a revelation. “It made me realize I wanted to pursue fundraising full time and opened the door for a journey that’s now become my career.” At AEDD, Chris’ primary responsibility is generating awareness and support for its mission. “I’m really just trying to increase AEDD’s presence in the community, to make people aware of what we do, trying to tell our story.”
The story of AEDD is one of empowerment. Since 1971, the organization’s programs and services have helped individuals with disabilities gain independence and improve the quality of their lives – primarily through education and employment. The Jobs 4 You Program, for example, matches the adults AEDD serves with local employers looking to hire. The Adult Skills Training Center offers a career development area with resume-building resources as well as effective interview preparation, proper workplace etiquette training and more. Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled also assigns a state-certified job coach who continues to supervise + train individuals once hired, and then monitors progress. “We have had great success with this program locally and intend to be the pioneer in the state to offer support for individuals with developmental disabilities to find meaningful employment,” notes Arkansas Enterprises for the Developmentally Disabled Director of Development Debbie Grooms.
“It’s a win-win: for the people we’re serving, and for the economy — because we’re putting people to work,” Chris explains. “The employers I’ve met say our consumers are some of the best employees they have because they show up everyday on time, and they’re reliable, hard workers and loyal. I think those are qualities that so many of us need to remember.” Debbie adds, “Many companies have found that by employing persons with disabilities, they have been better able to understand and serve their customers with disabilities. Adapting services to meet the diverse needs of persons with disabilities allows businesses to develop greater flexibility, build a reputation and reach a sizable market.”
Chris realizes the potential for AEDD to expand these types of programs with support from events like Curtain Call. “Chris’ perseverance, dedication to the cause, contacts in the community and ability to look ‘outside the box’ are just a few of his biggest assets,” Debbie notes. “He has the ability to connect with people no matter their age, and he is never afraid to ask for support.”
A dinner theater evening with a Broadway-style show, Curtain Call features performances from professional + local talents as well as AEDD’s adults in the ACTS in the Rock (Acting Creates Therapeutic Success) Program. It was the first event hosted at Argenta Community Theater eight years ago, and the partnership remains strong. This year, Curtain Call introduces two nights of festivities, including a semi-formal Red Carpet Premier night.
Chris gives 110 percent to the projects he supports, and looks forward to “taking things to the next level” at AEDD. “Every second, I’m trying to make a difference in the organization I’m working or volunteering for.”