When Joan Early’s friend and neighbor, Dora Jane Flesher, approached her about co-chairing Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Pulaski County’s “Day in the Life” auction, she said yes without hesitation. “My husband [Noel Strauss] and I love the basic theory behind Single Parent Scholarship Fund,” she said. “It is simple, yet dramatically effective: If you help bring a mother or a father out of poverty, they bring their children along with them.”

“Single Parent Scholarship Fund is giving families right here in Pulaski County the chance to achieve success through education,” she said. “That success will trickle down that family’s tree. When a parent graduates from college and goes on to live a productive life, the behavior is modeled for the children. It creates a ripple effect. Successful parents usually go on to have successful, happy families.”

As host of KATV’s “Family First” segment, Early is an ideal co-chair (with Dora Jane Flesher) because of her familiarity with the issues surrounding families, including how to juggle family life with a career. “’Family First’ has been a perfect fit with both my schedule and my current stage of life. It gives me the opportunity to report on a topic that I’m experiencing every day. You don’t always have the right answer to your children’s problems at the right time, and that can be hard. With ‘Family First,’ we hope we can help by being a resource for anyone living and working with children. After all, there’s nothing more valuable than our children.”

The youngest of three, Early says she feels fortunate to have been raised in Bloomfield, Iowa, a small farming community in the southeastern part of the state. Her mother, Sheila Early, was a stay-at-home mom who was involved in community organizations like the Fine Arts Club and Meals on Wheels. Her father, the late Richard Early, was a Vietnam veteran, nurse anesthetist and farmer. “We lived in such a rural part of the state that he practiced anesthesia in more than a dozen different county hospitals,” Early said. “Being ‘on call’ meant he traveled with a siren on his car, often rushing more than an hour away to help a sick patient in another county.”

Her husband is Noel Strauss, a Little Rock native whom she met through a mutual friend. “One evening, that friend and I were walking down the Promenade in Hillcrest, when Noel [a former NCAA All-American swimmer] came jogging by,” she said. “He stopped, she introduced us, and he eventually asked me out on a date. We were married within the next year. This spring, we will celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary.” The couple has two children, Ethan, 8, and Alexa, 6.

Growing up it didn’t take Early long to realize what she wanted to become. “My father actually gave me the idea of becoming a news anchor or reporter,” she said. “When I was in middle school, he would watch “Good Morning America” with Joan Lunden and tell me I would be good at her job. I have always enjoyed writing, so as I matured, the idea of becoming a journalist seemed like a natural fit.”

After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Early began her first reporting job at the CBS affiliate in Tulsa. Two weeks in, she covered the Oklahoma City bombing and the devastation which followed. She moved to Arkansas in 1995 and began at KATV as a general assignment reporter.

“I knew right away I had landed in a great station and in a fantastic town for news,” she said. “With President Clinton in office, it was an exciting time to be a reporter in Little Rock. I had the opportunity to cover President Clinton’s re-election in 1996. I was also assigned to cover the Susan McDougal trial and the Paula Jones investigation. I conducted the last on-camera interview with Jim McDougal from a federal prison in Texas before he died in 1998. Investigative reporting is my favorite type of journalism, and those assignments fell into that category. With the daily news cycle in a television newsroom, most reporters don’t have the opportunity to research a story for more than one day. When you have the chance to spend more time working in-depth on a piece, it’s a luxury.”

That may be one of the reasons co-chairing SPSF’s upcoming auction is right up Early’s alley. Over the past couple of months, she’s really been able to sink her teeth into this project, learning about the organization’s ins and outs along the way. She’s also become keenly aware of the significance of A Day in the Life, one of only two fundraisers SPSF holds each year.

“This is the second year for our Day in the Life auction,” said Early. “It is a unique concept because instead of bidding on items, partygoers have the chance to bid on ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ type experiences. It’s a chance to step into someone else’s shoes for a while.

Who wouldn’t enjoy that?”

Some of the auction items include a mother-daughter lunch with Arkansas’ latest American Idol contestant, Charity Vance; a six-person trip to P. Allen Smith’s farm, Moss Mountain, plus a picnic basket prepared by Chef Lee Richardson with fresh ingredients from Moss Mountain; and a trip for four to New York to see Mike Huckabee tape his weekly broadcast for Fox News.

“Our scholarship recipients depend on the money we raise,” said Early. “I love the fact that with our auction this spring, we’ll be opening the doors to college for dozens of families this fall. The more we raise, the more single parents we can help in Pulaski County. There’s always a waiting list of qualified applicants.”

SPSF Executive Director Ellen Ingram concurs. “Every year we receive almost twice as many applications as we can fund,” she said. “Last summer we reviewed 138 applications and awarded scholarships to 68 single moms and dads in the fall. In 2009, SPSF of Pulaski County awarded $111,000 in scholarships to high-potential, low-income single moms and dads attending college in Pulaski County. We hope to increase that amount to $130,000 this year, and the success of A Day in the Life will make it possible for us to assist more single parents with larger scholarships.”

Early, off camera

Soirée: Following any current national news stories?
Early: I am constantly following local and national news. In the car, I can usually be found listening to cable news on satellite radio. Of course, I was and am struck by the devastation from the earthquake in Haiti. I am also very tuned into the changing political and economic landscape of our state and country.

Spare time?
When I have spare time, which isn’t often, I love to read. I am constantly thumbing through parenting books. But, I also enjoy reading current fiction and non-fiction. I just finished “The Help” by Katheryn Stockett. A friend gave it to me and said I would love it. She was right.

Music?
I really like the soundtrack to the movie, “Nine.” I’m also listening to some old Michael Jackson. I’m a forever fan, and my children have become really interested in his music since his death.

Most difficult reporting task?
By far, the most difficult news story I’ve encountered was the attack on my friend and co-worker, Anne Pressly. Because of my Family First duties, I was fortunate I wasn’t in a position to have to discuss the story on the air.

Volunteer with other organizations?
I volunteer at Episcopal Collegiate School, where my children are enrolled. I also teach Sunday school classes for kindergarten and first grade children at The Cathedral of St. Andrew.