story and photos by April Robertson, special to The City Wire
FAYETTEVILLE — Before you enter George’s Majestic Lounge, you’re greeted with the sizzles and pops of a snare drum, and greeted with the warm music of chatter and laughter. As people swarm merrily in, the Hawaiian shirts swish through a crowd of undulating skirts, stripes, and scores of white trousers.
The 10th Annual Summer Salsa was a festival of food, beverages, silent auction items and live music which benefited the EOA Children’s House in Fayetteville Saturday night. The organization, which serves an average of 46 children between the ages of 2 and 5 every day, sought to raise at least $10,000.
Situated in the Pat Walker Health Center for Children in Springdale, the Center is designed to provide a stable environment for abused and disadvantaged children to learn and grow. Volunteers, therapists and teachers spend time preparing them to function in grade school.
“We’re really excited about this event,” said Julie Olsen, director of development for the EOA Children’s House. “We expect a good turnout — about 250 people.”
The “Fill the Tank” silent auction was a set of two long tables filled with a picnic set, boutique gift cards, fitness training sessions and bottles of that were aged more than 10 years. Other popular items included a build-your-own vacation with a list of locations to choose from, a movie lovers’ basket (complete with classics and popcorn), a $1000 orthodontics service and a Downtown Fayetteville “stay-cation.”
“I’ve loved working with everyone for the EOA Children’s House,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, a first-time volunteer at the silent auction. “I love northwest Arkansas because everyone gets behind these causes.”
John George was emcee for the evening and helped the audience become more familiar with the work of the organization.
What these ladies do “is not an easy job,” he said. “Most children come from bad situations. The Children’s House is the only safe place they have in their lives. You provide that.
“Most kids wouldn’t be (at the center) if they weren’t picked up by the bus. The children are picked up from as far away as Elkins, Rogers and Prairie Grove.”
The Children’s Center bought a bus with the aid of a grant from the Arkansas Department of Transportation, and they use $70,000 worth of gas each year, transporting students from their homes to EOA.
“Sometimes these kids move overnight, and it would take a week for Medicare to get to them again,” said Brenda Zedlitz, Director of Children’s Services for the EOA Children’s House. “Our bus drives a hundred miles each day, and it takes 50 gallons of gas to fill it; we fill the bus twice a week.”
Members hoped to raise $10,000 for the transit gas budget Saturday with proceeds from the silent auction and the children’s watercolor paintings.
“Since our expansion to the (EOA) building in October, we’ve doubled the amount of children that we’ve served,” Zedlitz said. “We serve children every day to overcome symptoms of maltreatment.”
EOA provides a crucial stability in the lives of toddlers and children.
“During my first year of teaching ... I didn’t know what to expect,” said Aniah, one of the most recently hired teachers at the Children’s House.
As she trained in another classroom, what she found was that the new students didn’t know that they were in a safe place.
“It was clear to see how we were making a difference in their lives,” she said. “The difference is unbelievable. I don’t even recognize them from when I first saw them.”
Even more surprising than Aniah’s impact on the students was the impact that they had on her.
“This is exactly what I wanted to do, I just didn’t know it at the time,” she said. “I feel so fulfilled.”
More than a few tears were shed as the crowd watched a short video featuring the work of the EOA Children’s House. This year, they graduated 20 children from their program into kindergarten.