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Red Dress Gala at the Ponderosa
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Kayla Broadway

Each year, supporters of the Community Health Education Foundation gather at the annual Red Dress Gala to celebrate those in Jonesboro who work to give back to the community and increase awareness of heart disease in women.

The 2019 Red Dress Gala, with its “at the Ponderosa” theme, will honor Dr. Michael Isaacson with the Heart Advocate Award, Selena Barber with the Ed Way Community Support and Philanthropy Award, Donna Caldwell as the Red Dress Ambassador, First National Bank as the Corporate Community Service and Support Award – more than 50 employees, and Gamble Home Furnishing as the Corporate Community Service and Support Award – fewer than 50 employees.

This year’s chairs, Kristen McCormic and Joanna Clines, are passionate about the Community Health Education Foundation (CHEF) and what the nonprofit organization does for the community.

“I became involved with (the) Community Health Education Foundation so that I could give back to my community and to help others in need,” said Clines, the director of finances for Burch & Co. Real Estate. “This particular program provided so much for Northeast Arkansas, and has actually been able to save lives by providing AEDs and health screenings, that I wanted to be a part of it.”

It’s a cause that CHEF Executive Director Emily Lard says is such an important one because heart disease is still the number one killer of women; each year, heart disease claims the lives of more women than breast cancer and lung cancer combined.

“The event gives us a chance to put one of our main educational focuses in the spotlight, the awareness of women and heart disease, as well as honor people in our community who are key in setting the example of volunteerism and philanthropy for their community,” said Lard.

It’s also an opportunity to recognize those who work to make the city a better place.

“Come support our honorees,” said McCormic, a real estate agent with Upstage Real Estate. “This is a chance for the community to recognize the hard work and volunteerism that have been done by individuals and local businesses. …

“Life is simply better when you’re doing good deeds and surrounding yourself with good people. CHEF and the Red Dress Gala provide you with the opportunity to do both, so I hope you’ll join us.”

While returning band Every Day Life is a favorite with attendees, the venue itself, the Gamble Event Center, is new for the annual event.
“We are looking forward to the gala being at a new location,” said Lard. “Gamble Home Furnishings Event Center—that is in their Shop Local Park—allows us to have everything to do with our gala inside one space. We are going back to the ‘Best of the Best’ theme for food, where local restaurants will feature their top appetizers.”

The gala will also feature a large barbecue meal where attendees will be able to choose from barbecue meats, shrimp, salmon and many other appetizers and sides. More than 200 auction items will be available, including a trip to Turks and Caicos, plane tickets, duck hunts, deer hunts, jewelry, concert tickets with meet and greets, parties and more.

“It is a time to get together with friends and just enjoy the evening of dinner, dancing and, of course, bidding on the auction items,” said Clines. “It is wonderful to see everyone supporting this foundation. Without this support, we would not be able to do all that we do in the community.”

Dr. Michael Isaacson, Heart Advocate Award

The 2019 Heart Advocate Award winner, NEA Baptist Clinic cardiologist Dr. Michael Isaacson, has been practicing medicine in Jonesboro since 1986 and has been advocating for healthy hearts for almost 34 years.

Isaacson says his favorite part of his job is diagnosing and treating his patients, especially helping them understand their cardiac issues, live with their cardiac conditions and maximize their health.

“We are finally recognizing that women are just as vulnerable for cardiac issues as men are, albeit a bit later in life due to loss of hormonal protection,” said Isaacson. “We also know that women present differently; their symptoms are often vague and not classic as with most men.

“… (Women need to) be aware of personal risk factors and modify those that (they) can. Don’t smoke, maintain normal blood pressure (120/80) and lipid levels, exercise (a minimum of 5,000 steps per day), treat contributing conditions (for example, diabetes) and maintain a healthy weight; obesity is the new smoking.”

The 2019 honoree was elected to represent Arkansas as its cardiology governor and says he has had the privilege of having a long association with NEA Baptist Clinic that has had a major community impact. Over the course of his career, he has been boarded in emergency medicine, internal medicine, cardiology, interventional cardiology and lipidology.

“I would like to thank the people of Northeast Arkansas for allowing me the privilege of participating in their cardiac care,” he said. “This is a great community with many skilled health care providers. Patients can receive state-of-the-art quality health care here.”

He encourages the community to continue to support organizations like CHEF and events like Red Dress Gala because of the way they increase knowledge and get accurate information out about heart disease in women.

“I truly believe, ‘For everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked,’” said Isaacson.

Selena Barber, Ed Way Community Support & Philanthropy Award

Selena Barber, a well-known community volunteer and the senior vice president/senior business development officer with Centennial Bank, will be honored at the 2019 Red Dress Gala with the Ed Way Community Support and Philanthropy Award.

“Receiving the Ed Way Community Service Award means everything to me, because Ed Way was my boss and mentor all of my years in banking, up until he passed away in 2015,” said Barber. “He set the bar so high with community service and volunteerism. His passion and energy with regard to giving back was always astounding to me, and I just feel tremendously humbled, honored and grateful for being selected for this distinguished award.”

Barber is passionate about giving back to the Jonesboro community, just like her late mentor.

“Many of our nonprofits give help and hope to community members who do not have many other options,” said Barber. “From after-school programs that offer constructive activities and tutoring for students to meal programs for seniors, to temporary housing for battered and homeless individuals, our nonprofits fill much-needed voids. The opportunity for community members to give of their time and resources offers many people a sense of belonging and purpose, as well.

“… The part I like most about volunteering is the opportunity provided to potentially make a difference in someone’s day or life. When I step back and realize that I wasn’t put here on earth to live a life just for myself, but to try and help others, it just really makes me want to do more. I’m guilty of not doing as much as I should, of course, but there is always that idea of trying to look for ways to serve.”

The 2019 Ed Way Community Support and Philanthropy Award winner currently serves as the board chair for the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce and president of The Learning Center. She is a St. Bernards Advocate, a member of the St. Bernards Women’s Council, a goodwill ambassador for the chamber and a member of United Way’s Regional Impact Committee. Previously, she has also served as a CASA volunteer, was a board chair for United Way, served as the Ag Bash co-chair and was the Advertising Federation president, just to name a few.

“All of these organizations, and the many others we have in our community, do a fabulous job of raising awareness and funding for their missions, and I am glad to help where I can,” said Barber. “My service to the chamber is important to me, because I understand how important a thriving business community is within a city.”

Donna Caldwell, Red Dress Ambassador

The 2019 Red Dress Ambassador, Donna Caldwell, has been a member of CHEF for seven years. She utilizes her professional experience and passion for volunteering to make a difference and inform women about the risks and signs of heart disease.

“I was introduced to CHEF through a colleague at Arkansas State University,” said Caldwell, the program coordinator for the Cardiovascular Interventional Program in the Department of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences at Arkansas State University. “After joining CHEF, I soon realized I was the perfect fit to volunteer for CHEF. … I educate young radiologic technology students to work in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab and interventional radiology. The students in the Cardiac Cath Lab learn to assist the cardiologist to visualize the heart and/or intervene if there is a problem in the coronary vessels or the heart.”

In addition to the friends she has made in the nonprofit organization, she says that her favorite part of her involvement with CHEF is making a difference that is literally lifesaving.

“Due to the donations and generosity of the community, we have placed AEDs (Automatic External Defibrillator) that have helped to save at least two lives in the past five months; there is nothing like saving a life,” said Caldwell.

She wants that same focus on saving lives via heart disease awareness in women to be a focus for local volunteers: “Even though there are many campaigns that advertise that heart disease is the number one killer of women, I do not think those campaigns reach every woman. I also do not think that all women think this fact is real; ‘Heart disease happens to men,’ has always been the common mentality. If through CHEF we can alert even one woman, that may be one life saved.”

The longtime CHEF volunteer encourages others in the community to invest their time with the local health education foundation.
“I wish that each person reading this would take the time to consider volunteering with CHEF,” said Caldwell. “The stronger we are, the more change and effect we can have on our community.”

First National Bank, Corporate Community Service and Support Award (more than 50 employees)

In 2019, First National Bank celebrated 130 years of business in Northeast Arkansas. The growing bank, which now has 20 locations across the state of Arkansas, fosters an environment of volunteerism and community involvement, earning it recognition as a 2019 Corporate Community Service and Support Award winner.

“Giving back and investing in the community you live in helps ensure that the community continues to be a place you want to live and work in,” said Business Development Officer Allison McDaniel on behalf of the bank. “… First National Bank is proud to support a variety of causes and organizations throughout the state. This year will mark the third year First National Bank has presented the Arkansas State Police Foundation Golf Tournament, which raises money for the foundation and its support of law enforcement in the state. In the first two years of the event, FNB raised approximately $130,000 for the foundation.”

With more than 300 employees across the state of Arkansas, McDaniel says the bank is aware that heart disease among women has personally touched the lives of many of its employees, which is why First National Bank believes it’s important to support organizations that push for a better, healthier community.

“First National Bank is proud to have a lot of employees who serve a lot of local organizations,” said McDaniel. “Whether they serve as board members, volunteers or advocates, our employees really enjoy being able to give back to their community. Having employees serve local organizations and nonprofits helps us continue our ‘You 1st’ way of thinking.

“… By putting ‘You 1st,’ we believe First National Bank helps create a better place for people to live. For our employees, ‘You 1st’ extends beyond the normal work day and into their lives, both philanthropically and in their everyday way of thinking.”

CHEF is one of the many local nonprofit organizations the bank supports, because it works to make Jonesboro a better place to live.

“Organizations like the Community Health Education Foundation ensure awareness of heart disease among women is more than just a statistic. By bringing a personal aspect to the need for prevention and education of heart disease, we can hopefully lower the number of women affected by heart disease,” said McDaniel.

Gamble Home Furnishings, Corporate Community Service and Support Award (fewer than 50 employees)

Gamble Home was established in 1990 in Manila by Dan and Wanda Gamble, followed by the original Jonesboro location in October 2008. Shop Local Park was established in July 2018 and will host the annual Red Dress gala for the first time later this month.

A 2019 Corporate Community Service and Support Award winner, the full service home store prides itself on being community minded.

“The Gambles Gives Back initiative started when it was brought to Chris (Gamble’s) attention how great the need for simple things such as school supplies is for the children in our community,” said Gamble Home’s Director of Marketing, Sarah Hunt. “We started with simple things like our annual backpack drive and toy drives at Christmas, and our give backs have been able to grow into so much more than we ever imagined. We have been able to start our Buy a Bed, Give a Bed program, continue our annual backpack and toy drives, and give back to a wide variety of organizations within our community.”

The local business also supports the local foster care community, the NEA Charitable Foundation (NEA Baptist Center for Good Grief and NEA Baptist Hope Circle), CHEF and the Red Dress Gala, the NEA Alzheimer’s Association, Rivers of Recovery and several others.

“Our stores would not be where they are today without the support of our customers and this community,” said Hunt. “We just want to support them the same way they have supported us. … We feel that employees who are involved in the community and local organizations understand the need for what we are able to do with our community give backs. It is an opportunity for them to see firsthand why it is so important that we continue to tell our customers about what we do and how they can help.

“We have had previous employees suffer from heart disease. It is an honor to be able to support CHEF and the Red Dress Gala so that the community can be educated about this horrible disease and we can strive to prevent it. … We have some amazing medical facilities and foundations in our area that are doing a great job bringing awareness to issues like this. I do think that we could always do more, and that is why I am so honored that Gamble Home is being recognized as a Red Dress Gala honoree alongside the other honorees who strive to help CHEF continue (its) work in the community.”

The 2019 Red Dress Gala will take place Aug. 24, 2019, at 6:30 p.m. at the Gamble Event Center. Tickets are $125 each or $950 for a table. Tickets can be purchased at chefjonesboro.org while they last. The event is black tie-optional. For more information, email chefjonesboro@gmail.com.