'St. Charolette of Antioch' receives community service award from Fort Smith Chamber

Catherine Nolte
Fort Smith Times Record
Charolette Tidwell accepts the Jack White Community Leadership Award from Tim Allen at the Leadership Fort Smith Commencement event on July 15.

Speaking of "her Christian love for all humankind," former Sebastian County Circuit Judge Jim Spears refers to Charolette Tidwell as "Saint Charolette of Antioch." 

Tidwell, founder and director of Antioch for Youth & Family, has dedicated herself to the fight against hunger for over 20 years.

For her service to Fort Smith and the River Valley, Tidwell received the Jack White Community Service Award from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Tim Allen, chamber president and CEO of the chamber, presented Tidwell with the award as a part of the Leadership Fort Smith Commencement event on Thursday. The event celebrated the Leadership Class of 2021 and welcomed the new class of 2022.

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The community service award is named for Jack White, a former employee of OG&E for 35 years, a Naval veteran, family man, and lifelong learner [who] was highly regarded for his service, leadership, reputation, and collaboration to make the Fort Smith a better place, according to a release. 

"As powerlines in our house are not seen, Jack often remained behind the scenes. He was happy to do the heavy lifting, delivering power and allowing others to flip the switch," Allen said, quoting an article written by Michael Tilley of Talk Business & Politics.

"This is why the award to recognize community service bears his name," Allen later added. 

Introducing this year's recipient, Spears shared how he was inspired by Tidwell's dedication to fighting hunger.

"I found this lady ... in the basement of a church, sweat pouring down her face, while she and some others were filling boxes with food for those who needed it," Spears said.

He then went onto describe Tidwell's journey from being one of the first Black students to attend Sparks School of Nursing to having an accomplished nursing career with Sparks and Beverly Enterprises. Following her retirement, she started Antioch for Youth & Family in 2000. 

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In 2020, the nonprofit rose from distributing 1.5 million pounds of food a year to 3.67 million pounds, Tidwell said.

Through providing food to those in need, "... Antioch in 2020 has brought an economic benefit to our community of $11,032,000," Spears said.

Upon receiving her award, Tidwell encouraged the leaders in the room to continue to make the community of Fort Smith a better place.

"Thank you so much for this honor," Tidwell said. "I absolutely do not take this honor on myself. It is the community of Sebastian County that has afforded us this."