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Legislator starts foundation 

Sen. Steele raises money during session.

HOPING FOR PAY: Sen. Tracy Steele.
  • HOPING FOR PAY: Sen. Tracy Steele.

 

State Sen. Tracy Steele (D-North Little Rock) is the chief executive officer of a non-profit foundation that intends to offer leadership training to young adults, and he began raising money for it as the current legislative session approached.

The organization is called STAND, an acronym for “strive toward a new direction,” and Steele says its mission is “to empower individuals and organizations through leadership training that promotes economic opportunities, social progress and community development.”

“We lose too many of our young people in this state to other states, to apathy, to lack of motivation,” Steele said. “We will heavily target the young adult population and provide the leadership training they need to be productive leaders in this state.”

Steele plans an official kickoff event for STAND at the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 1.

However, a registered lobbyist provided the Arkansas Times with a Dec. 12, 2006 letter from Steele announcing the creation of the organization. The lobbyist questioned why he was contacted only weeks before the new legislative session was scheduled to begin, considering that a fact sheet included with the letter said that STAND was “founded in June 2006 by Sen. Tracy Steele.”

Steele said he is not yet receiving a salary, but he expects to “as the organization grows.”

Asked whether he sees a conflict in soliciting contributions from businesses that may need his support on legislative matters, Steele said, “Absolutely not. That person who received the letter, they are probably in a position with a private business that supports non-profit organizations. There is absolutely no connection between who supports my organization and any of my affiliations. I’m certainly a state senator, but I’m also the CEO of a foundation that is getting started.”

Steele said he doesn’t have a particular fundraising goal aside from having enough to pay for staff. “We will roll as revenues allow us to roll,” he said. “We’re not trying to bite off more than we can chew.”

He said he has sent over 200 fundraising letters so far to organizations that include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arkansas, and he has met with John White, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and representatives of Alltel Corporation to ask for support.

“We’re not targeting lobbyists,” Steele said. “We’re targeting private business and philanthropic organizations. It’s the same fundraising method we used when I was with the MLK commission. The organization was sparsely funded by the state and we had to get additional support.”

Steele was executive director of the state Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission from its inception in 1994 until his resignation last October. He served in the state House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003, when he began his current tenure as a state senator.

“One reason I decided to [leave the commission] was that I wanted to take the leadership piece to a whole new level,” Steele said. “I didn’t feel like the mission of the MLK commission would allow me the opportunity to do that, to take the passion I have to empower people to live more productive lives. It had to be done through an independent, not-for-profit organization with no direct affiliation with the state.”

Steele said that STAND will focus on assisting young adults (primarily between the ages of 21 and 35) from rural communities in Arkansas. The main component will be a leadership institute available at “minimal expense or absolutely free.”

“One of the things many of our corporations realize is that even if these young people receive a quality education, they don’t have the leadership skills needed to provide value to these companies,” Steele said. “There are many of the young people who can’t get in or afford things like the Clinton School of Public Service. We want to train young people how to serve on boards and commissions.”

“If anyone thinks I left the King Commission to go away, I haven’t,” Steele said. “I’m still going to be involved with issues to help the state.”

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