Sydney Stone’s Arkansas Tech University education allowed her to go beyond the textbooks and lectures to convert her lessons into real-world solutions.
The people on campus and in the community who have new-found access to a reliable source of nutritious food and other necessities can attest to those solutions. The fact that their lives have been improved is one of the reasons why Stone is the 2019 Jill Lestage Brown Service Leadership Award winner at Arkansas Tech.
“In sociology and psychology classes, we learned about the different strains and stresses in society…things that are causing crimes and disorders,” said Stone. “You take the things you are learning and you create something that fixes them. That’s what the hygiene drive and the pantry and all of that are aimed at…we’re fixing the issues that are causing larger issues. Now these kids are getting to stay in class. They’re getting their education. Then they’re going to go out and get a job, and hopefully they can create the change we tried to create here. It’s a big cycle. If you don’t provide for the little people, you don’t get to see it come full circle.”
Stone’s circle started in West Fork. Her family moved to Clarksville when she was in middle school, and that is where she graduated from high school. The support and lessons she received at home sparked her desire to help others.
“The biggest influencers on my life have been my parents (Tanja and Brett Stone),” said Stone. “I don’t know how to put into words how much they’ve had an impact on me. They always raised me to be a helper and a giver to others. If you can give, give whatever it is you have…finances, time, toys when I was younger. It turned into ‘let’s go to this event’ and ‘let’s give back with our time.’ ‘Let’s work on this to help people in this neighborhood.’ The biggest lesson they taught me was to always give, so when I got to college I was looking for something to continue that.”
That something was the Because We Can student organization.
Stone joined the group and was at the forefront of the development of the Green and Gold Cupboard at Arkansas Tech. The path to the creation of a food pantry for members of the campus community began in August 2016 when Tyson Foods, Inc., announced a $67,760 grant to Because We Can.
“Then came the hard work part,” said Stone. “Stocking it, putting the shelves together…the (ATU marching band) came in and helped us, which was very fun. The faculty and staff did an amazing job helping us get off our feet with that. We ended up stocking the pantry for at least a year, a year-and-a-half…we’re still feeding people off of some of the food from that drive. Without that, there’s no way we would have been able to start it.”
Little more than 13 months after the grant announcement, Stone was standing on the front porch of the cupboard at 1019 N. Arkansas Ave. in Russellville and speaking to the crowd assembled for the facility’s ribbon cutting.
“When we had the ribbon cutting ceremony, it was like everything we had worked for came to a head,” said Stone. “We got to sit back and relish in the fact that it’s here, we made it and we’re about to help so many people. Since then, we’ve fed so many people and helped so many people with that. It’s really awesome getting to meet a lot of different people from campus who come in. It’s completely confidential, but it’s nice to see them around campus and know that you are helping them at their house with their families. I really love it.”
Stone has remained an active volunteer at the cupboard and with the food recovery program that provides excess food from ATU’s Chambers Cafeteria to local service organizations, but if there is one project that has been closest to her heart, it might be the hygiene drive she led for the benefit of children in the Russellville School District.
Through its first three years, the hygiene item collection garnered donations valued at more than $80,000.
Stone’s involvement on campus was not limited to Because We Can. She was a member of University Honors at ATU, served as president of Phi Mu and was selected to the ATU Homecoming court in 2018.
After beginning her academic career at Arkansas Tech as a biology major with an interest in pursuing a career in medicine, Stone found that a general psychology class sparked her imagination in a new direction.
She also points to a statistics class under Dr. Sean Huss and a conversation with another faculty member in the ATU Department of Behavioral Sciences, Dr. James Stobaugh, as turning points in her time at ATU.
“(Stobaugh) was not even my advisor at the time,” said Stone, “but he had taken the time out of his day to pull my past advising and my schedules…and he had planned it all out where I could graduate from here with three degrees, which is going to be great later on in life. He’s been so influential…him and Dr. Huss. They’ve taken the time, caring and support to develop me as a person, student and community member. I am not who I am today without them.”
Stone will graduate from ATU on Saturday, May 11, with degrees in psychology, sociology and criminal justice.
Her next step will be pursuing a Master of Science degree in psychology on the clinical track at Missouri State University, where she will also serve as a graduate assistant. Her career plans lie in the field of forensic psychology, possibly with the federal government, as a teacher or as a counselor.
“You don’t do these things to get recognition,” said Stone when asked about the Jill Lestage Brown Service Leadership Award. “It needed to be done, so I did it. But I will not lie. It is nice to be recognized for the work that you’ve put in, the time, the sweat, the tears and the blood. It’s nice to have people recognize that and appreciate it. There are so many students on this campus this could have gone to. I know there are other people out there who have to be better suited, but I am very honored to have been chosen.”