Ushering in Aid With Les Moderns

Susan French, president of Les Moderns, got her start with the volunteer organization like so many others: a combined love for theater and philanthropy. 

“I had a friend who was in it at the time, and I was a single mom with three children, and I was broke and working two jobs,” she says. “I couldn’t afford to go to the theater, which I loved, and this friend told me I could see shows for free if I became an usher. It was a win-win because I could see a show and get out for the night, and all the money went to charity.” 

Les Moderns (formerly La Moderne) is a charitable organization that earns money to give away by ushering events in Little Rock, most notably Broadway shows at the Robinson Center. Following the 2021-2022 Broadway season, the group donated a total of $20,000 to the Alzheimer’s Association of Arkansas, Ballet Arkansas, Buffaloes Foundation, Camp Hope, Central Arkansas Diaper Bank, Centers for Youth and Families, Conway HDC Volunteers, Feed the Vets, Gigi’s Playhouse, Paws in Prison, Project Zero, Roland Crisis Center and Sheep Dog Impact. 

The organization was established in January 1947 by a group of teachers who wanted to give back to the community. They started with typical fundraising efforts, but in the 1970s, began earning money by ushering for the Broadway Theater Series and subsequently for Celebrity Attractions’ events at the Robinson. 

Deana McCormack, marketing director for Celebrity Attractions, says the longevity of the group makes them special. 

“We have had the privilege of working with Les Moderns since we’ve been in Little Rock, and they have a presence and pride of ownership,” McCormack says. “They love our patrons as much as they love the shows, and they take such good care of them.” 

In December 2021, the organization voted to modify the name and extend membership to include all genders over the age of 18. French says adding men to the group has been a positive step forward and brings “a different energy to the group.”

One of the new male members, Marvin Fisher, loves helping theater supporters have an enjoyable time when they attend a performance. 

“By donating our time as ushers, we can continue the generational legacy of Les Moderns, which in turn, enables many other organizations to continue their legacies,” Fisher says. “Giving forward is giving love, and giving love is the greatest gift of all.”

Les Moderns manages 300 ushering volunteers, but the group itself tries to stay at 30 members, a limit that was originally set so meetings could be held in people’s homes. 

“We always have a speaker at our meetings,” says French, who has filled every office throughout her tenure. “Local organizations who would like to inform us of their need and would like to be considered for a donation — we learn so much about what is going on in the area.”

For member Rita Qualls, this is one of her favorite parts of being in the group. 

“I’ve learned about a couple organizations I didn’t know about, and I feel that the money we donate helps organizations, especially small ones that might not be in the mainstream of receiving donations,” she says. 

According to French, the group keeps its mission at the center of everything it does, even with fun events like Christmas parties. Gatherings are held at places like the Ronald McDonald House, while guests bring items to donate and even share their meal with residents who need it.

The pandemic limited some of the group’s traditions, like decorating Christmas trees at local nursing homes and passing out stuffed animals and gifts, but French says she hopes those opportunities to serve return soon. 

Even though the past two years have been difficult, member Melissa Myers admires the group’s perseverance. 

“I have fond memories of presentations being completed on front porches or in homes because of COVID,” Myers says, “but Les Moderns made sure we supported charities in our area regardless of the global pandemic.” 

“When COVID hit and we couldn’t usher and the number of members went down, I literally sat down and had a long conversation with God and said, ‘What am I going to do?’” French says. “But I thought, ‘This is a labor of love, and you’re going to give it everything you can so that this organization — that turns 75 in January — will survive. And survive past me.’” 

Membership is now on the rise, according to French, but the organization is always looking for new members and volunteers. 

“It’s a great way to give back to the community,” McCormack says, “and if you love the theater and want to see a Broadway show, you are there and you get to see the shows and their nuances. If you love to help people and make them smile, it is the perfect group to belong to.” 

French says she has seen an increase in family teams and mother-daughter duos. Member Jennifer Lowery loves this aspect and volunteers with her mom and daughter.

“I think it’s so neat that we have three generations all sharing in the experience together,” she says.

Adding younger members has also been an asset to the group, especially when navigating long distances and stairs that prove challenging for some older members. Some students even volunteer for school credit.

“Our community has a lot of needs,” French says, “some of them we don’t even know about. And with a little effort, we can make a big difference. Whether it be giving items to someone who needs it or donating money. Nothing fills your heart more than giving to someone else or giving to your community. 

“You can’t take any of this with you at the end of your life. All you can do is take the memories of your family and the things you’ve done for people. Giving back is the best way to fill your heart and soul. I wouldn’t give this up for anything, even though it’s a lot of work. I feel so good about what I do.” 

Learn more on the Les Moderns Volunteer Organization Facebook group.

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