Passion for her job is the main motivator that has kept one area woman in her position as director of the Western Arkansas Employment Development Agency for more than 50 years.
Martha Anne Holt-Nichols has been the administrator for Western Arkansas Employment Development Agency for 52 years - her anniversary fell on July 1 - and said she is not leaving any time soon.
“I promised my staff I’ll stay here until they carry me out in a body bag - that’s how I feel,” Holt-Nichols said. “It’s God first, then family, then this agency.”
WAEDA has provided job services to adults, dislocated workers and youth in Western Arkansas since 1965. It has served thousands of people in those 52 years, Holt-Nichols said.
Holt-Nichols was hired by Crawford County Judge Milton Willis to head the service when it first began as a Neighborhood Youth Corps under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s poverty program, she said.
“What we did was we put as many youth as we could to work in schools, county or city offices,” Holt-Nichols said.
It was supposed to be a six-week program, she said.
“I kept thinking, ‘When are they going to close the doors?’ It just went on and on,” Holt-Nichols said.
Services provided by WAEDA now fall under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. The agency has managed over $87 million in federal and state grants.
Included in WAEDA’s services are job training courses at local colleges and universities that partner with the agency. Grant money helps pay for the training services for WAEDA clients.
Once training is complete, WAEDA helps clients with job placement. Training and placement are for jobs that are in high demand in Arkansas and come from a list provided by the state.
WAEDA originally serviced only Crawford County. The agency eventually took on Fort Smith, then all of Sebastian County, and now services six counties including Franklin, Logan, Polk and Scott.
Led by Holt-Nichols, the agency’s management team and staff have 294 combined years of experience and hold a proven record in all aspects of program design, implementation and accountability, said Tia Pinkston, Western Arkansas Employment Development Agency assistant administrator.
It is Holt-Nichols’ leadership, Pinkston said, that has made WAEDA so successful.
“Martha’s expertise in the area of workforce development is unsurpassed,” Pinkston said. “The devotion she has for her programs along with her loving spirit and personal strength, make her an invaluable asset to the community.”
Pinkston and Holt-Nichols agree that the services provided by WAEDA make a positive impact on the community, and improves the quality of life for their clients.
“If we can catch a youth, their entire life changes,” Holt-Nichols. “They can go out of high school, into training and get a degree or get certified, and go directly into an in-demand job.”
Pinkston gives much of the credit to Holt-Nichols.
“Her diligent efforts, spanning over five decades, have provided a range of opportunities, services and support to generations of citizens in Van Buren and Western Arkansas,” Pinkston said.
Under Holt-Nichols’ direction, WAEDA has contributed to multiple community projects including the restoration of the King Opera House, the historical wall mural at Mike Meyer Park, original construction on the Van Buren city park hiking trail and the restoration of the historical Van Buren train depot, Pinkston said.
Holt-Nichols has served in multiple career-related and civic leadership roles at the local and state level with honors that include Fort Smith Jaycee first female boss of the year, GFWC-Women’s League of Van Buren citizen of the year, state representative to the National Association of Counties and chairperson of the Arkansas State Employment and Training Association.
“Martha has a deep passion for her work that translates to her tireless drive to support her staff and clients,” Pinkston said. “Her dynamic leadership is the driving force behind the staff that shares her vision of economic growth for the communities they serve.”
Holt-Nichols’ passion for her work is evident when she speaks about her agency’s services and its clients.
“It’s one of the best things our county has ever done,” Holt-Nichols said. “Over the years, it’s been an amazing, fulfilling life for me.”