As Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families celebrates four decades of service, Jay Barth reflects on his leadership of the organization + the legacy of its visionaries.
By Barrett Gay | Photography by Rett Peek
“We are all made stronger when the least of us are healthier in terms of their economic lives, their educational lives and their health care. No matter where we live in Arkansas, we have neighbors who are vulnerable. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is about strengthening the fabric of Arkansas through public policy that protects lives.”
As Dr. Jay Barth, M.E. and Ima Graves Peace Distinguished Professor of Politics at Hendrix College, completes his second year as president of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Board of Directors, the organization celebrates four decades of service. This nonprofit organization works with legislators, coalitions and policy researchers on behalf of Arkansans to “ensure that all children and their families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives and to realize their full potential.”
“Like many, my first interaction with Advocates was through our popular event, Soup Sunday,” Jay explains. “Over time, I became more conscious of the organization and how it reflected my values – not just in its key goals, but also how it goes about its work. Advocates is particularly appealing because it is so clear that the ultimate goal is public policy change that will benefit kids and families in Arkansas.”
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families boasts an extensive resume of milestone achievements since its 1977 founding, such as conducting critical research that led to the Arkansas Supreme Court declaring the state juvenile system unconstitutional in 1987. It also helped secure a $100 million expansion plan for the Arkansas Better Chance Pre-K program in 2003 and has worked to reduce taxes on low-income populations in Arkansas for the past decade. Most recently, AACF organized efforts to reform school disciplinary practices – in 2017, the organization helped secure legislation that banned expulsions and out-of-school suspensions for grades K-5, with the goal of keeping kids in the classroom.
“The most rewarding aspect of serving as president of the board is the opportunity to work with board members from all over the state, all dedicated to supporting the mission of the organization,” Jay notes. “We also have the opportunity to work with a team that includes some of the very best policy researchers in the state. All of them are using their tremendous talents to advocate for the most vulnerable members of society in Arkansas at the governor’s office and in the legislature, often working collaboratively with other organizations.”
With a tenure that spans 40 years, AACF will honor its rich heritage in the community at its first-ever gala in October. The evening will showcase the visionaries that established AACF along with the unveiling + dedication of a piece of art created to commemorate their commitment to the children and families of Arkansas. “We’re excited to celebrate the organization’s ten original founders who had the vision and courage in 1977 to join forces to improve the well-being of all of Arkansas’s children,” Executive Director Rich Huddleston says. “Our staff, board, sponsors and friends are honored to carry on the legacy of these ten individuals, show our appreciation for their unwavering dedication to our work and highlight the progress we’ve made over the past four decades.”
What is the most influential insight you’ve heard? “Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.” — The late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota (for whom I had the great joy to work on education and civil rights issues)
Who is your biggest inspiration? I’m most inspired by my students across what is now nearly a quarter century whom I see using their amazing talents in the public policy arena every day.
What are your hobbies? Reading, writing, running and hiking
How would you describe yourself in one word? Mild-mannered
Anniversary Gala Honorees:
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Mary Sue Jacobs
Judge Olly Neal
The late Bettye Caldwell (1924-2016)
The late Dr. Betty Ann Lowe (1934-2013)
The late Sharon Pallone (1939-2009)