story and photos by Yani Ko
special to The City Wire
BENTONVILLE — Residents of Havenwood, a transitional housing program for single-parent families, took a night away from their duties as parents and rubbed elbows with their most caring and well-to-do donors during Havenwood’s 18th annual Angel Gala, held Saturday (Feb. 25) in the ballroom at the DoubleTree Guest Suites in Bentonville.
The scene was all glitz and glamour as guests donned sparkly dresses and sharp suits for the occasion. Officials reported a record attendance of 236, and corporate sponsors for the gala have quadrupled since two years ago.
The Havenwood housing facility is located in Bentonville. The non-profit organization helps to tear down barriers that single parents face by breaking the cycles of homelessness, poverty, and abuse and by providing counseling and connections to the community. The program began in 1994 and served 27 families last year alone.
“Residents can stay with us for up to two years,” during which time they have counseling and case management services available to them, said Jackie Schnedler, executive director and former resident of Havenwood, “And the Angel Gala funds those services,” she said.
Residents must also either become employed or enrolled in school during their stay. The Angel Gala is the program’s largest fundraising event and volunteers hoped to raise $100,000 on Saturday night through a silent auction, live auction and individual pledges.
“Havenwood’s goal is to empower our residents with skills that lead them to a sustainable future,” said Susan Kennedy, who heads fundraising events for the Havenwood Advisory Committee.
Emcee for the night was Neile Jones, co-anchorman of nightly news for the KNWA-TV.
Individual and corporate sponsors sat at tables centered with globes and arrangements of fresh gerber daisies in tall glass vases.
A three-course meal of baby spinach salad, beef medallions and triple-chocolate mousse was served. Red and white wines were also available.
During the live auction, a whimsical painting of the handprints of children living at Havenwood sold for $1,600. The priceless piece of art was created by the children to thank volunteers and supporters.
Two residents — Tristren Looney and Heather Dunkerson — shared their personal stories with the audience. Many guests were moved to tears when Looney, 20, described the impact Havenwood has had on her life.
“I finally have a stable environment. I pay my own bills and I am surrounded with people who want to help and watch me succeed,” Looney said through tears of her own.
Dunkerson, once homeless while trying to rear her two young boys, gave up a third child for adoption.
“I am so grateful for Havenwood for helping me through the birth and adoption,” Dunkerson said. Several key members of the staff encouraged her along the way.
“They told me I was doing the most selfless thing a person could do,” she said.
Guests were so moved by the residents’ testimonies that the women received standing ovations.
The party ended on a higher note: more cocktails and dance music from a disc jockey.