In honor of Women’s History Month, UA Little Rock is featuring stories about the “Outstanding Women of UA Little Rock,” faculty, staff, students, and alumni who are serving as leaders and making a difference for the university and their communities.
A University of Arkansas at Little Rock employee has dedicated her life to helping children in Arkansas get a better education and prepare for a better future.
Paula Rogers, program engagement manager at UA Little Rock Children International, spends her days finding partners and supporters for more than 2,300 students in the central Arkansas area enrolled in the Children International program.
“We serve students in kindergarten through age 24 in four areas of focus,” Rogers said. “We want to make sure that our kids are healthy, educated, empowered, and employable. We have health programs to develop healthy habits and connect kids with the services they need. We provide quality after-school and summer programs with tutoring and mentoring. We build leadership, teamwork, and competence in our youth so they can go out and empower their communities. We help them develop life skills and social responsibility.”
Children International celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and Rogers has been a part of the organization for 23 of those years. She began as a volunteer in 1996 as a neighborhood leader who taught art classes and came on board as a full-time education manager in 2002. Rogers ran after-school programs and summer camps for Children International.
Rogers utilized her expertise in art education and her interest in social justice to cultivate numerous programs that have left a lasting impression on Little Rock youth. She loved developing programming that inspired the children to be better citizens who gave back to the community. The after-school program Kids’ Club includes homework help and tutoring as well as activities in art, literacy, and service learning.
She began the “Mind Your Own Business” summer camp, where students become entrepreneurs by making and selling their own products to the community and then donate the profits to a local charity. Another favorite activity was the Empty Bowl Project, where students made ceramic bowls in partnership with UA Little Rock and then sold the bowls to raise money for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.
“These children may have their own needs, but teaching them to give back is an important part of what we do,” she said. “The kids grow beyond themselves so they can see beyond their own circumstances and see a future that is much brighter.”
She’s also recruited many UA Little Rock students to volunteer at Children International.
“All of the college students that come through our doors are just so grateful to have the opportunity to change a child’s life,” she said. “I’ve seen many college students change their majors after being involved in our after-school program.”
In 2014, Rogers was one of 10 honorees – and the second Arkansan – who received the prestigious Lewis Hine Award. The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) presents the award to those who have given a lifetime of unheralded and exception service to young people. It is named for the acclaimed NCLC photographer who documented the exploitation of children in the early 20th century.
“To be honored with the Hine Award was a big honor,” she said. “It’s important to think that the work you are doing matters. I see kids who were in my after-school program in the third grade who are now sending me invitations to their weddings. I see all these kids I taught doing great things in life. When you see that, you know that somewhere along the line you made a difference.”
Rogers has a long history as a staunch advocate for helping children and improving neighborhoods in Little Rock. As a single parent in the 1990s, Rogers experienced firsthand the lack of local after-school activities for her children. She decided to take action and organized a 4-H club to teach leadership and community action. She has been highly involved in the leadership of neighborhood organizations. Additionally, Rogers directed a puppet ministry for 15 years at Greater Center Star Baptist Church and previously served on the Single Parent Scholarship Fund Board of Pulaski County and the University District Board. She’s also a dedicated member of the UA Little Rock Staff Senate and organized last year’s Fall Open House event.
“I live, work, and play in this neighborhood, and it’s very important to me,” she said. “I helped write the Oak Forest Initiative back in the 1990s and have always been an advocate for this community. Fighting for sidewalks and streets and the community garden was big for me. I’m fighting for the need to be a community. It’s still my hope that we can enlarge our capacity to service our kids in this community.”
Rogers has a daughter, a son, and three grandchildren. Her biggest inspirations in life are her mother and daughter.
“The woman I look up to the most is my mother. She’s a very strong woman. She went back to school late in life. She worked in the schools in Gary, Indiana, for 55 years and retired at 85. Anyone who is babysitting their great-grandchild at 90 and working until they are 85 is someone I want to be like,” she said.
“My daughter is my inspiration as well. She’s shown me how to hold on to faith and hope. I’m a two-time cancer survivor, and I believe I am here because people prayed for me. My daughter has shown me what faith and love can really do. I think the women in my family are very strong women. We have four generations right now, and I am very proud of them.”
Once Rogers eventually retires, she wants to take her vision of bringing art to communities across Arkansas on the road.
“After I retire, I want to have an art bus where I can travel around from community to community,” she said. “I want the bus to be a mobile art room where we will go neighborhood to neighborhood and bring art to the community.”