Service to others is a passion for helping others achieve their goals, providing help where help is needed or contributing time and effort to others. Merriam Webster defines “service” as “the action of helping or doing work someone,” and this action is the primary goal of Lesley Graybeal.
Graybeal is the Director of Service-Learning and Volunteerism at the University of Central Arkansas. Within this role, she coordinates service opportunities for students, develops relationships with local nonprofits and creates community-based projects for different faculties’ service-learning classes. She’s a connector. A change maker. Someone who constantly seeks community.
“I love helping people connect with one another to work towards shared goals, whether that’s bringing art into people’s lives, helping to raise awareness about and alleviate homelessness, or making sure extra food from local restaurants ends up at food pantries instead of the landfill. Our community and UCA campus are full of people who want to make a difference, and nobody can do that alone,” said Graybeal
Through her roles with UCA, Graybeal has worked with multiple nonprofits in the community including but not limited to Faulkner County Juvenile Court, City of Hope Outreach, the Faulkner County Boys & Girls Club, Conway High School, Community Action Program for Central Arkansas (CAPCA), United Way of Central Arkansas, Arkansas Asset Builders, the UCA Bear Essentials Food Pantry, and the UCA Center for Writing and Communication.
Each of the previously mentioned nonprofits has been helped through the AmeriCorps program called BearsServe Leaders at UCA that Graybeal oversees.
Graybeal’s favorite part of her job is the connections she gets to be the catalyst for. She seeks the need, then connects the right people to help with that need.
“My office supports all things civic engagement at the university, and it’s absolutely my dream job,” said Graybeal.
The office of Outreach and Community Engagement is constantly creating ways for individuals, students and faculty to become involved in Conway. The opportunities are endless and beyond fulfilling.
“I think building more opportunities for civic engagement at UCA has been the most rewarding experience for me, and it’s ‘the work that I’m most proud of. I love getting to help first-time voters navigate a process that is a little more confusing than it needs to be and experience the excitement of participating in democracy,” said Graybeal.
Graybeal has been volunteering since she was a child in Georgia, whether it be at art camps or rehabilitation hospitals. Her heart for volunteerism eventually lead her to this role. Before she found her way to Conway, she taught in Raleigh, North Carolina, at Wake Technical Community College for six years. While she was teaching, Graybeal still found a way to tie her passion for volunteering by launching a service-learning program there as well.
The move to Arkansas was a group effort between her and her husband, who teaches at UCA. She went on to tell the exact reasoning behind making her way to The Natural State.
“When comparing our options before moving here, we thought Arkansas was a really beautiful place, and we loved the students, faculty, and staff at UCA. We have met so many people who committed to building an equitable and inclusive Arkansas, and we love being part of that work,” said Graybeal.
When she made her way here, she never could have dreamed that her passion for service and higher education could be married, but sometimes dreams do come true! Graybeal identifies the reason she loves service work is the people and the stories:
“I think the thing I have always enjoyed the most about getting involved in the community as a volunteer is getting to meet community members that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to meet. Everyone has a story and when you get to know people over time as a volunteer, you get to hear some of those stories and be changed by them.”
Graybeal has also come to realize that you’re only as strong as your community and that’s something that everyone needs to come to terms with.
“We all have a responsibility to get to know one another in an authentic way, to provide meaningful care for one another, to apologize for our mistakes, and also to understand that historically some people have been devalued in our communities and work to make things more equitable.”
This realization also makes her cognizant to the fact that community lives within all of us. Sometimes we need to ask for help and that’s completely okay.
“I also just don’t take for granted the fact that I live in a community, and as a member of a community, I rely on other people and other people rely on me. I think we all owe it to each other to do what we can to make our community a place where all of us can be healthy, safe, and happy,” said Graybeal.
Graybeal’s piece that she’d like the world to know is this:
“This world has a place for you, and you belong. There are people who support you and want to see you thrive. Work with them to create the community you want to live in, and don’t leave any room for hate.”
Wrapping it up
Lesley Graybeal can be found in the Outreach & Engagement office on the University of Central Arkansas campus or hiking with her family. If you’re interested in volunteering opportunities, you can reach out to her via email.
Raven Nobles is the Assistant Art Walk Coordinator at The Studio Downtown. After transferring from Hendrix to the University of Central Arkansas, then a pandemic hitting, Raven has truly learned what it means to pivot and thrive in the midst of chaos. As a senior Public Relations student, her passion is cultivating lasting relationships through effective communication with those around her. In her free time, she enjoys running, writing, reading, and the more than occasional thrifting trip. – Raven is UCA chapter president of Public Relations Student Society of America – She is a member of BearsServe Leader at UCA – Connect with Raven on Instagram and LinkedIn providing public service through BearsServe Leaders and Public Relations Student Society of America.