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united for a cause
Story by Audrey Hanes, Photo by Amy Long

In 2012, three local agriculture companies came together for a common cause – to help local children and families affected by autism. Later this month at the third annual Ag for Autism Bracket Bonanza event, Armor Seed, Cache River Valley Seed and Farm Credit Midsouth will use their agricultural alliance to raise money to be channeled into local autism research and therapy programs.

The nonprofit organization’s board president, Nathan Waldrip, says the idea to establish Ag for Autism stemmed from his company’s desire to make a positive impact in the community.

“We talked about the different ways we might be able to help others, and autism kept standing out as an area of need,” said Waldrip, the finance director of Armor Seed. “Armor has a few employees that have children with autism. … Some families or even local organizations designed to help children with autism
often cannot get the support they need to provide help or therapy to those with autism. We felt the least we could do is help those in need. Kelly Phipps, the managing partner of Armor Seed, really encouraged us and helped us to get the ball rolling.

“The number of identified cases has grown significantly over the past two to three decades. Many families dealing with autism are looking for any direction or support that they can get. We hope to help ease some of that pressure off of them.”

Still, Waldrip and the rest of the Armor Seed employees knew that they’d be able to help more people if they joined forces with other agriculture companies. While Farm Credit Midsouth and Cache River Valley Seed have stepped up as fellow presenting sponsors, other agriculture and non-agriculture companies have helped support the nonprofit, as well.

“We felt that we could have a larger impact by teaming up with other ag businesses, so we teamed up with Farm Credit Midsouth and Cache River Valley Seed,” said Waldrip. “The three companies have all been able to really work together and help Ag for Autism grow in the early stages. Farm Credit Midsouth and Cache River Valley Seed have both been very instrumental in gaining support for Ag for Autism. … You won’t find a more generous, down-to-earth group of people anywhere than the people that work in agriculture. Not to sound cliché, but it is very rewarding to work with an organization like Ag for Autism and see all of the selfless people, particularly in the agriculture industry, that are willing to help others.”

Waldrip says he is thankful for all of the leaders who have stepped up to make fundraising for autism possible. The current Ag for Autism board is comprised of: Armor Seed’s Waldrip, Matthew Harvey, Melissa Powell and Danny Graham; Cache River Valley Seed’s Miranda Russell and Marty Eaton; and Farm Credit
Midsouth’s Melissa Coles, Randy Kingston and Mike Williams.

“I feel very honored to help out with Ag For Autism,” said Russell, who has been with Cache River Valley Seed for almost nine years. “I believe very strongly that autism research and therapy is so very important because we seem to know so little about it. Just to know that we have helped one family around here in any
way is a great feeling.”

The organization’s main fundraiser, Bracket Bonanza, is an annual college basketball-themed event that takes place in March. More than 200 people attended last year’s Bracket Bonanza, which raised a total of $60,000 when combined with the funds raised at the previous year’s inaugural event. Board secretary Powell is making an effort through marketing and promotion to grow
that number to 300 attendees this year and hopes to bring that fundraising total to $100,000.

Following Selection Sunday, the 2014 Bracket Bonanza will take place on March 18 at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center. Guests will enjoy dinner, a silent auction, live music and more. The NCAA tournament play-in games will be shown on projector screens, and attendees will also be able to fill
out and submit their own brackets.

“No matter if it is the fundraising or the grant giving, the Bracket Bonanza is 100 percent local,” said Waldrip. “Not only is the support all raised here in our area, but it goes to benefit those in our area. That is one thing we wanted to be sure of when we started this organization. We did not want to raise all of this
support and awareness locally and turn around and give it to a national organization where it would be difficult to see the results. … We just want to take all of the support that our region has raised and keep it in our area, that way we can actually see the difference that Ag for Autism has made.”

As the nonprofit organization and its fundraiser continue to grow, its organizers continue to take steps toward their goal of easing the financial burden of families affected by autism and to allow them better access to the services they need.

“The agriculture community continues to humble me with their community spirit, generosity and willingness to ensure local families and children affected by autism have the tools they need through various research and therapy programs,” said Coles, vice president of human resources for Farm Credit Midsouth. “Over 3 million individuals are affected by Autism in the United States, and it’s harder for families and individuals to receive the therapy and
services they need in rural areas, which is one of the many reasons why the agriculture community plays a vital role in the success of Ag for Autism.”

For more information about Ag for Autism or for tickets to Bracket Bonanza, call 336-2290, visit agforautism.org or find Ag for Autism on Facebook.