story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
About 400 people attended the 11th annual Plant A Seed gala at the John Q. Hammons Center Thursday evening (April 3), which benefitted the NorthWest Arkansas Community College Foundation.
The gala, which is expected to raise $100,000 for student scholarships, is the foundation’s only fundraiser, said Meredith Brunen, executive director of the NWACC Foundation.
The program honored this year’s Quality of Life Awards recipients: Rotary Clubs of Northwest Arkansas; Archie Schaffer III, former executive vice president of corporate affairs at Tyson Foods, Inc.; and Cox Communications. Each recipient was recognized for their contributions to the “quality of life in Northwest Arkansas,” which included volunteerism and helping regional nonprofits, Brunen said.
Additionally, all three honorees have made substantial contributions to the NWACC campus, as seen by the Tyson Foods Culinary Learning Center, Cox Communications Welcome Center and the Cox Webinar Center. NWA Rotarians have “invested in advocacy and support” in the Melba Shewmaker Southern Region National Child Protection Training Center at NWACC, Brunen said.
One of the surprises of the evening was former President Bill Clinton’s video introduction of his “old friend” Archie Schaffer III. Clinton pardoned Schaffer after he was convicted in a corruption scandal in 1998, saving him time in prison. Schaffer became embroiled in the scandal surrounding former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy, and both Democrats and Republicans asked Clinton to pardon Schaffer because it is thought his conviction was politically motivated against Espy.
NWACC students played a big role in the evening, from serving as “celebrity student waiters” to being highlighted for their accomplishments on stage. One student received a standing ovation after he spoke about being a first-generation college graduate who has benefitted from scholarships. Raul Najera-Bahena, the son of Mexican immigrants, is about to graduate from NWACC with a degree in business before transferring to the University of Arkansas in the fall to study international business.
“With determination, you can accomplish anything you want,” he said in his speech.
One of the NWACC scholarship programs that will benefit from the proceeds of the fundraiser is Dr. J’s Book Club, which helps students pay for expensive college textbooks.
“I see textbooks as an investment; I keep them for future reference,” said history major and aspiring teacher D.J. Cameron, who is also a student ambassador and president of the student activities board. “I need a suitcase to carry all these books around.”
Brunen explained that the book club was established in 2006, as Becky’s Book Club after the college’s president at the time.
“In celebration of her [Dr. Becky Paneitz] retirement last year, the NWACC Foundation Board of Directors agreed to endow the funds raised so that her legacy would continue to benefit NWACC students,” she said. The name of the book club will change with each new president in the future.