A crowd of 450 guests at the 12th annual “Plant a Seed Soiree” helped make possible NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) students’ dreams and honored individuals and organizations that impact the “exceptional” quality of life in Northwest Arkansas (NWA).
Community and government leaders, as well as business professionals, gathered for dinner, live music and a program on Thursday (April 30) at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers. The event was expected to raise $100,000 to go toward scholarships.
“The soiree is an opportunity for us to thank our donors and to recognize students and to make that connection between students that are recipients of the donor’s generosity. When we talk about the three main things these donors fund, it’s things like scholarships, it’s the culinary project in Bentonville, and it’s a Washington County center sometime in the future,” said Mike Luttrell, NWACC foundation board chair.
The evening included a “State of the College’ address by NWACC President Evelyn Jorgenson, three Quality of Life Award presentations, and a student’s perspective address. In her remarks, Jorgensen said next year marks NWACC’s 25th anniversary and promised many special events commemorating that milestone. One such event will be the opening of the time capsule in October.
Jorgensen also announced the expansion of the college’s culinary program and the addition of two new degrees: an occupational and life skills program designed for students with cognitive disabilities, and a construction technology program in conjunction with John Brown University.
“It’s all a part of meeting the needs of our students and being responsive to our community needs,” she said.
Each year during the event, the NWACC Foundation Board gives three Quality of Life Awards to people and organizations that make a difference in the community.
“We are looking for people who have a vision, looking for people who are really looking to sustain or improve the exceptional quality of life that we enjoy in NWA,” said Meredith Brunen, executive director of development/foundation.
This year’s Quality of Life Awards honored recipients John and Emily Douglas, long-time residents of Bentonville; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; and the Samaritan Community Center.
Joshan Cortez, information systems student and NWACC student ambassador, addressed the crowd from a student’s perspective. He told guests the college helped him to get out of his comfort zone, to serve others and to go from being a “C” student to being on the Dean’s List.
“I was once a small seed that was deeply confined under my comfort zone. I guess I wouldn’t have seen how beautiful the world really is if I had stayed buried,” he said.
“I attribute my success first and foremost to my God … and to my parents who put up with me since day one, from the day I was born,” Cortez said. “And to my second home, the whole NWACC community who generously opened its doors and welcomed me. NWACC has, still is and will be nurturing both current and future seeds like me to help us maximize our potential and exceed expectations.”
Again this year, NWACC students served as “student celebrity waiters” for the evening, in place of normal catering staff. Student waiters represented a cross-section of the student population – from non-traditional students to concurrent students still enrolled in high school, but taking college classes, Brunen said.
Guests were encouraged to chat with their student waiter and get to know their story.
“Many of them have been recipients of these scholarships. So, for example, they benefited from last year’s event and are now volunteering their time at this year’s event,” Brunen said.
One small change this year was the slight modification in the name of the event. In past years it has been known as “Plant a Seed Gala.” After a survey last year, Brunen said that the Foundation decided to change the name to “Plant a Seed Soiree” to better reflect guests’ experience during the evening.