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Stacey McCulloughAssistant Director-CEDPhone: 501-671-2078Fax: 501-671-2046 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Emily Smith - October 30, 2020
For this month's LeadAR Alumni Spotlight we speak to April Ambrose, LeadAR Class 13.
April Ambrose is a Business Development Manager for the Sustainability and Energy
Services Divisions at Entegrity, a sustainability consulting firm headquartered in
Little Rock. She is a LEED Fellow and Green Classroom Professional faculty, and as
the second employee at Entegrity has been involved with the design and implementation
of hundreds of sustainable building projects. April holds a self-designed BA in Environmental Education from Hendrix College and
each year provides a variety of continuing education presentations to organizations
around the country. We've asked April to share more about her LeadAR experience and
how it continues to impact her life and work. We've shared her answers below.
I am the Business Development Manager for the Sustainability and Energy services divisions
at Entegrity, a green building consulting firm headquartered in Little Rock. I am
a LEED Fellow and Green Classroom Professional faculty. As the second employee at
Entegrity, I have been involved with the design and implementation of hundreds of
sustainable building projects, while having provided more than 500 presentations across
I live in North Little Rock with my husband and 4-year-old daughter, and I also have
two bonus daughters, ages 14 and 19. I love playing on the water or in the woods,
dancing, yoga, live music, rocks, native plants, art, local food, popcorn, festivals,
As the first employee of Entegrity in 2007, I was integral in our growth from two
to more than 100 employees with nine offices, including the Memphis office which I
founded. I am the founder of Arkansas Earth Day Foundation, first chair of the Little
Rock Sustainability Commission, first director of Elevate, and have served on the
board for numerous other non-profit organizations, the latest of which is the Arkansas
Natural Sky Association.
Raised in a community of back-to-the land hippies that moved to the Ozarks for cheap
land in the 70s, I felt that I knew a lot about the environmental issues facing that
part of the state. However, while working on state-wide issues, I could not identify
with the delta, livestock, or resource extraction practices in the rest of the state.
I wanted to understand the full range of challenges Arkansans face so that I could
better understand the motivations for or against a variety of environmental issues.
First, I was early in my career during LeadAR. The second year of LeadAR was my first
year with Entegrity, which was 12 years ago. LeadAR helped me transition from a passionate
environmentalist into a true sustainability professional.
Second, I became much more tempered in my environmental stances, while also allowing
my experience to encompass many efforts: health, conservation of natural resources,
sustainable buildings, corporate and municipal sustainability and resilience. For
example, when I started Arkansas Earth Day, my goal was to bring into focus all of
the people working to better our environment, as they did not all know each other,
including health, gardening, green buildings, finance, art, and academia, to name
a few. However, I had not thought much about bringing in conservation efforts like,
wildlife management, good resource extraction (mining, lumber, etc.), or safer agricultural
methods. I had a very “us” and “them” mentality. Starting LeadAR helped me understand
that, while I wanted a wood house, I also did not want anybody to log the woods. Now,
I work with all types of clients to determine what motivates them, whether that is
financial, marketing, or leaving a better world to our kids, and allowing the other
global sustainability benefits to simply come along for the ride.
The mock legislature was very formative for me. I thought it would be easy to push
my bill forward with the sponsors I had gathered. I had not expected the amount of
time and energy needed to help others further their bills. I was also surprised by
the number of people asking me to assist by speaking on behalf of their bills. I don’t
remember if I was successful in my conservation easement bill, but I remember my impromptu
speeches on others’ bills that helped them succeed. I felt both honored and yet surprised
at their faith in my leadership, both during the exercise and in being voted “most
likely to run for office” (which has yet to happen!).
I remember Dan Schwieder and I doing one specific exercise at the ropes course at
the Vines Center. Dan was not fond of heights, and I wanted to challenge myself while
helping him do something he did not think was possible. We did an exercise where we
faced each other holding hands and balanced against each other as we inched sideways
on wires that progressively got further from each other. At the end, it seemed we
were nearly horizontal to the ground with our hands above our heads pressed against
each other. There were times I wasn’t really sure we were going to make it to the
next platform, but then I’d look into his eyes and he was really panicking inside
and seemed on the verge of just letting go and dropping. So, I shoved my fear down
and made sure my focus was on him feeling safer and empowered. If he felt that I could
do it, he was going to follow my lead to the end. I made him look at me, not the trees
or the ground, and kept telling him how good he was doing and how we were going to
do this together. We inched along with muscles burning, fear bubbling, and hearing
support from the ground for what seemed like hours, until we finally reached the platform.
It seemed like a huge accomplishment that I even made it, but a larger leadership
accomplishment that we both made it!
Before COVID, I would freak out if I didn’t have childcare for even an hour of my
time at work. Now that I have worked from home with my 4-year-old for months, I am
less scared of the crossover between home and work. It is still highly stressful to
feel accomplished as both a mother and employee, especially simultaneously, but I’m
more capable than I expected. I’ve also found my limits so that I can apply self-care
more meaningfully in the future and distilled my priorities so that it’s easier to
let the small stuff slide.
I have learned how much this pandemic is weighing on women, generally more than men,
and especially as working women. We have to adjust our entire schedules and manage
a heavier mental load to accommodate the changes in childcare, household shopping,
home cleaning, health focus, serve as mask/distancing/etc. czar, keep on top of pandemic
updates, alternative celebrations, etc. all while balancing everything with our careers.
That said, almost overnight the business world has become much more tolerant of personal
lives intersecting with our work lives. The sudden appearance of a pet or kid in a
virtual meeting is completely tolerated now, where it would have previously been taboo.
I feel like I’ve been groomed to be a leader my whole life. I’ve been in numerous
leadership programs since attending the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation World Leadership
Congress in 8th grade. I’ve been trained on the numerous facets of what a good leader looks like,
from the outside. However, it also really matters how it feels on the inside when
you stop and check in with yourself. Are you listening to all viewpoints and giving
everybody time to speak/shine to form a comprehensive picture of the solution? Are
you leading so that your opinions can be heard, or leading because you heard what
others have to say and are helping them to achieve their goals? Are you helping others
to be the best versions of themselves or using their talents to further a larger agenda?
None of these are right or wrong, but these questions help ensure you are remaining
balanced in your approach and that your leadership is more about accomplishing what
is needed, than about being recognized for your efforts.
Working from home with a 4-year-old and a puppy. I can’t really say it’s easy, but
it’s significantly easier than I ever expected it would be.
The ability to make everybody feel heard and honored in their opinions, without fear
of judgment. Also, the ability to keep emotions out of conversations in which you
have strong opinions.
Even as a “greenie ” I have a brown thumb. My husband takes care of all the plants
at our house and they are beautiful! When I “tend” them, they tend to turn brown!
“The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” even as
I seek to continue healing from the birth of my child (who is almost 5 now) and the
stress and trauma I experienced during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum depression.
It is also helping me to be far more empathetic toward others. I’m also watching “Leverage,”
which is a somewhat silly crime drama, but encourages me to think outside the box
of any normal scenario to solve much larger problems.
To believe that you already have all you need to be happy. Happiness is not the next
job, the next vacation, or the next house. Happiness is a state of mind that is always
available, if we believe it as such. You can’t wait to believe it when you see it;
you must see it (in your mind) to be able to believe it.
I will never forget my interview for LeadAR with multiple members of the board and
alumni. At the end of my interview an older woman said, “If you get into the program,
you’ll be the first one of you people that we’ve ever let in. ” Since the program
was rooted in agriculture, they saw environmentalists as someone on the opposing side.
I was appalled to be referred to as “you people, ” but even more so that she saw protecting
our state’s natural bounty as something to be feared. By the end of my LeadAR experience
I had changed many minds about the goals of sustainability. Just as I tempered my
views, I believe I had a big hand in helping others to temper theirs. I know one classmate
removed all plastics from their kitchen, another began recycling for the first time,
and still others came to me for advice on sustainability topics such as healthy materials,
water and energy conservation, etc. This did not feel like a big win, but rather a
seed to move us all toward conversation and moderation instead of an us and them mentality.
This mentality of working together for the common good, in light of our differences,
is how leadership will help move Arkansas forward.