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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Dixon talks gaps in services, community connectivity

by Lindsey Wells | July 24, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.
The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown OAKLAWN ROTARY: Esther Dixon, executive director of Difference Makers of Hot Springs and Diamonds in the Rough, addresses the Oaklawn Rotary Club on Monday during its weekly meeting at The Hotel Hot Springs & Spa.

The city's gaps in resources for women in transition, the need for additional community support and advocacy and her own personal desire to help others is what led Esther Dixon to begin her journey on the path of community service, she told Rotarians Monday.

Dixon, who addressed Oaklawn Rotary Club during its weekly meeting at The Hotel Hot Springs & Spa, is the executive director of Difference Makers of Hot Springs, a group of community advocates, and executive director and founder of Diamonds in the Rough, a women's transitional ministry. She is also a member of several community organizations including Tri-Lakes CASA, Hot Springs Women's Chamber of Commerce, NAACP and the historic Eureka Missionary Baptist Church.

Her work with the Difference Makers and her own firsthand experience with Hot Springs' lack of support and services during her job displacement is what led her to launch Diamonds in the Rough in 2017, she said.

"I worked for State Farm for 23 years. In 2014, I went through a reorganization where I did not want to relocate, so my family went from two incomes to one income. That was a transition. We had a son that was in high school and we decided that we did not want to move, so I tried to get assistance and, with my experience of 23 years, I was not able to get assistance from the unemployment office because they felt like I had enough experience to find a job," Dixon recalled. "So I said, 'I need to do something about this. I need to find some type of assistance for women like me.'

"I didn't have substance abuse problems, I was never incarcerated, I had only one child and I was married. There's little to nothing out there for women like me. So, that's how I came about the vision to launch Diamonds in the Rough, because I wanted to provide empowerment, mentoring and just that steppingstone to help women."

Dixon said both Diamonds in the Rough and Difference Makers act as a conduit to connect women to resources in the community they otherwise may not have been aware existed.

Diamonds in the Rough's first community event is set for Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. So far, 50 girls between the ages of 12-18 have signed up to attend the inaugural Diamonds in the Rough of Hot Springs Empowerment Conference. They will each receive free breakfast and lunch, a T-shirt and an autographed copy of keynote speaker Tara Shephard's book, "Who Am I." Shephard is also the founder of the Promise Mentoring Program.

A panel of speakers will mentor the girls on various topics including coping with peer pressure, overcoming depression, building self-esteem and healthy eating and living, and a group from National Park College will speak to them about furthering their education.

"I want to build multiple layers; I want these girls to build their arsenal, build their toolbox," Dixon said. "I want them to talk to them about being prepared and thinking about what they need to do as far as taking their SATs, thinking about going to college. We want them to aspire for greatness."

Dixon said Difference Makers began in 2014 as "a group of people that just wanted to do something different in the community" and make a difference. The group reached out to various organizations, schools and businesses in search of incomplete projects they could assist with. Hot Springs School District responded with two projects, and the group also began working in two local cemeteries that were in disrepair.

"Our first initial project with Difference Makers in 2014 consisted of a five-site project, and we started this project on what's called National Make a Difference Day, and that's how we got our name," she said.

Now, Difference Makers is a nonprofit organization "making leaps and bounds in making changes," Dixon said. In 2017 the group was awarded the Arkansas Education Association Human and Civil Rights Award. The organization's founder, Rev. Willie Wade, was also individually honored with the award.

On Aug. 10, Difference Makers will host its second annual Arkansas Community Health Banquet featuring keynote speaker ShaRonda Jordon Love, executive director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission. The banquet will be held at 6 p.m. at Embassy Suites, 400 Convention Blvd. Tickets are $25. A second component honoring community advocates has been added to this year's banquet. Six individuals will be chosen to receive the Living Legend Award.

The following day, Aug. 11, the group will host its fourth annual Hot Springs Community Resource Fair from 9 a.m. to noon at the Webb Community Center and along Pleasant Street.

"What we do is set tents up and down Pleasant Street and at the Webb Center and we'll have various nonprofits, organizations and businesses participate and show the community what services are available," Dixon said, adding that last year's event featured 45 vendors with almost 400 people in attendance.

"We just want to make sure that the community is aware of the services that are available. It's all about access. A lot of times people are just unaware and they don't know how to connect those dots. Like I said, we're the conduit to get that information to the community," she added.

Local on 07/24/2018

Print Headline: MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Dixon talks gaps in services, community connectivity

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