If Keith Riggs, his forefathers or his successors had never given a dime or a moment of spare time to nonprofits, the family would still have a lasting legacy in Arkansas. Riggs Cat, founded by Keith’s great-grandfather in 1927, has dealt in the heavy equipment used in projects that transformed and advanced the state’s construction and infrastructure for five generations.


But being the family that it is, the Riggs clan wasn’t satisfied with just growing a successful business and seeing the progress its products helped create. From one generation to the next, the family’s philanthropy and support of local causes has been an important pillar of its operations, encapsulated today in the Riggs Benevolent Fund of which Keith Riggs is a trustee.


“Giving back to the community has been very important to the company and the family,” he said. “When I first started at the company back in 1984, I was trained by my father, Jack Riggs, and my uncle, Bob Cress, to give back. The company and our family wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the community.


“You have to make a difference in the community for the quality of life. Quality of life for us, quality of life for our employees, quality of life for our customers, quality of life for the entire community.”


The Riggs Benevolent Fund and Our House shelter have enjoyed a long partnership, Riggs said.


“My involvement with Our House is when I became a trustee of the Riggs Benevolent Fund back in 2013,” he said. “At that time, the Riggs Benevolent Fund made a donation for their career center. Workforce development has always been a huge interest of ours, not only from the work aspect of it, but also just for bettering the community.”


The relationship has continued thanks to Our House’s methodology, which addresses issues related to homelessness from multiple angles in an attempt to break the cycle of poverty in families.


“I’m impressed with their strategy,” Riggs said. “Their clients have to show accountability. They have to show progress in finding a job and keeping a job to be able to stay at the facility. It’s not just show up and get a free meal and go back out on the streets. There’s much more to it. They’re working with both the parents and the kids to up their skill sets. Helping kids is very important to me and the Riggs Benevolent Fund.


“Another thing that’s very important to me, and the thing that really got me involved in learning about Our House, was their career center, giving individuals the skills they need to be employable and keeping a job. That’s critical in society and it’s critical to Little Rock.”


Riggs’s work in the community isn’t limited to the 75 donations the Benevolent Fund averages every year. The 62-year-old is also personally invested in organizations he feels speak most directly to improving quality of life, such as the Museum of Discovery, Pfeifer Camp and the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s leadership program. AR Kids Read, of which he’s a board member, is another headlining passion project.


“It’s an organization doing incredible stuff,” he said. “It’s a program to tutor kids in literacy who are below grade-level reading in first through third grade. We focus on first through third grade because that’s where you learn how to read. After the third grade, you read to learn. If you can’t read by the third grade, you’re already behind.


“We recruit folks in the community to go out into the schools and spend an hour a week with two kids, 30 minutes tutoring time with each kid. One of the facilities that we are tutoring at now is Our House; we’re also doing a pilot with Big Brothers Big Sisters and working down in Pine Bluff with the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff.”


Riggs considers the work of AR Kids Read so important, he’s willing to lead by example as well as in the board room.


“Not only am I a board member, I’m a tutor,” he said. “I’ll tell you this: It’s one of the highlights of my week. I just love my kids so much, to see them learn something and get something out of it. It’s much more than just having kids read to you, it’s mentoring, too.”


As active as he is in his favorite organizations, Riggs said it doesn’t take a lot of time to make a difference in the lives of others. He said the reason many give for not getting involved — lack of time, lack of funds, lack of expertise — are more perception than reality.


“There are so many great organizations,” he said. “The Arkansas Food Bank always needs folks to help. A lot of folks, their churches are involved in things. If you can’t give financially, give some of your time. You don’t have to be a teacher or have special skills; I’m not a teacher to be a tutor and mentor those kids in AR Kids Read. We have a great system that anybody can use.


“There are so many organizations where an hour a week would be great. The difference you could make would be tremendous.”


READ ALSO: Community Spotlight / Our House