Farm Community Rallies for Le Bonheur
The first time Steve Roberts crossed paths with WREG (Memphis) Meteorologist Jim Jaggers, he was driving his pickup truck down a windy country road in rural Arkansas and found himself stuck behind Jim and the rest of the Go Jim Go cycling team. At the time, Steve had two $20 bills in his pocket.
Steve had seen some television commercials about Go Jim Go and knew the riders were raising money for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. After trailing the team for a few miles, Steve passed the riders, pulled over and handed Jim the $40 when the cyclists rode by. If not for Steve’s signature green boots, that might have been the end of the story.
But a few days later, a friend of Steve’s caught an interview with Jim Jaggers and heard him talking about the bearded, truck-driving farmer in knee-high green waders who pulled off the road to give to Le Bonheur. And as pretty much anyone in East Arkansas might tell you, the friend knew that farmer had to be Steve. Word got back to Steve that his gesture had impressed and touched Jim and the other riders, and in that moment nearly seven years ago, one of the hospital’s greatest champions was born.
“I thought to myself, if me stopping was the highlight of his ride … well, we can do a lot better than that,” said Steve. “So, the next year I just went to collecting money. I knew I could give Jim some help; I was in the right spot and knew the right people.”
And help he did. The next year, Steve knocked on doors, visited friends, made cold calls to strangers and raised $15,000 for Le Bonheur in 2009. He set out with a goal of $5,000 and quickly realized that, with the help of his community, they could raise much more. The day Jim and the cyclists were scheduled to ride through town, Steve had already collected an impressive $14,500 – but he wasn’t satisfied.
“I'd set a new goal of $15,000, and I was still $500 short,” Steve recalls. “The riders were making a stop at the Ford dealership, so I got there early, sat down at a desk inside and made five calls to five friends asking for $100 a piece. Each time someone said ‘yes,’ I’d add their money to our total. And they all said ‘yes.’ Together, we raised the last $500 over the phone while I waited for the bicycles to come down the street.”
Steve’s fundraising efforts have grown exponentially each year. Last year, he presented Jim with more than $94,000 in donations on behalf of his community, and in 2015, he has his sights set on breaking the $100,000 mark. In just a few years, farmers, families and schools in East Arkansas have contributed more than a quarter of a million dollars to fundraising campaigns for Le Bonheur.
Go Jim Go
Go Jim Go, a partnership between Le Bonheur and WREG News Channel 3, has raised more than $1 million for the hospital since 2006. The annual 333-mile bicycle ride across the Mid-South is led by Meteorologist Jim Jaggers and a team of volunteer cyclists. The 2015 ride, set for Sept. 23-30, will make stops at schools and businesses across the region.
Jim, who is another of Le Bonheur’s greatest champions, attributes Steve’s success in part to his persistence and in part to the friendships Steve has cultivated throughout his lifetime.
“Steve has dedicated a large portion of his life to raising money for Le Bonheur. He’s constantly thinking about it,” said Jim. “He’s deeply woven into the farming community in all of East Arkansas. Steve helps those people out and so they help him out, and Le Bonheur is the beneficiary.”
A native of East Arkansas, Steve attended school in Forrest City, resides in Wynne and hosts special events on his farmland in Colt.
When he isn’t rounding up support for Le Bonheur, Steve works as a crop consultant – locally known as a “field man” – providing farmers with information, tips and resources to help them get the greatest yield from their crops.
Steve has been advising members of some Arkansas families for three generations. Take Vernon Thweatt, for example. Vernon met Steve when he was only 14 years old. At the time, Steve was working as a crop scout for Vernon’s father. When Vernon assumed more responsibility for his family’s soybean farm, he knew he needed help from one of the best crop consultants around.
Thanks to Steve’s grassroots efforts, Le Bonheur receives annual contributions from Thweatt Farms.
In fact, in 2014 alone, more than 360 people and divorganizations gave to Le Bonheur because of a personal relationship with Steve.
Some donors, like Phyllis Lindley, a clerk at The Country Store, and J.B. Hamilton, who pilots a crop dusting plane, have personal reasons for getting involved with Steve’s mission. Both Phyllis and J.B. have children who required expert care at Le Bonheur, which is about 50 miles outside of Cross County, where the two reside. Other donors, like First National Bank Assistant Vice President Becky Smith, are just glad to know that Le Bonheur is close by for kids who need it.
“I can’t imagine what I’d do if something happened to my son, Colton,” said Becky. “I know I’d be so grateful to have Le Bonheur there for him, so I want to do anything I can do to help.”
As humble as he is influential, Steve has a knack for selling everyone he meets on Le Bonheur’s mission. He’s even convinced some unlikely candidates to give. During one of his first years raising money for Le Bonheur, Steve was pulled over in town for driving a few miles over the speed limit. When the officer realized that he was collecting donations for the hospital, she gave him her lunch money instead of a ticket. Steve attributes people’s willingness to give to Le Bonheur’s reputation for providing compassionate, exceptional care.
“The people working at Le Bonheur are the nicest folks I’ve ever met,” said Steve. “And we need a children’s hospital. Kids are different – especially the littlest ones. You can’t just lower the doses because you’re treating a kid. Everything has to be different and just right for children.”
Steve’s fundraising ideas are growing almost as rapidly as his network of donors. In September, he has plans to host sporting events, golf tournaments, fishing competitions, trail rides and even an outdoor festival with live music at a local state park – all to raise money for Le Bonheur.
Although he became a Le Bonheur champion in an unlikely way, for Steve, his mission is crystal clear.
“Anytime someone asks me why I’m raising money for Le Bonheur, I tell them, ‘That’s not the question. The question is: Why don’t you help me do it?’” said Steve. “There ought to be somebody in every single town who can do this for Le Bonheur – and they should.”