More than 100 business professionals took time Wednesday morning (Aug. 28) to attend Havenwood’s Sunny Side of Leadership breakfast hosted by Wal-Mart.
Havenwood is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year as a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and hope for single parents and their children. The need has never been greater, even in this perceived land of plenty, said Jackie Schnedler, executive director for Havenwood.
On any given night there is more than 2,400 people homeless in Northwest Arkansas, 52% of them are children under the age of 17, according to Schnedler. Havenwood operates 15 apartments for single parents that can house those adults and up 21 children. Last year the facility helped 63 families and continues to have a waiting list of at least 20 more at all times, said Rachel Cox, director of marketing for the charity.
Crystal Harry, a past resident, said the year she spent at Havenwood with her young son Jordan helped her break the downward cycle she was destined to otherwise follow. Harry said she grew up with young parents who were dependent upon drugs and alcohol which left she and her brother raising themselves the best they could.
Though Harry said she loved school and excelled academically, she fell into similar patterns of marrying in high school and wound up a teenage mom by the time she graduated via home study in 1997. Harry said she secured work in a childcare facility and ultimately had to leave her husband who had become abusive and unable to keep a job.
“I found Havenwood in the Yellowpages and they took me in,” Harry said.
She and her young son lived at Havenwood for a year, getting not only shelter, but also counseling, mentoring and most of all the inspiration they needed to see and explore future possibilities. Harry eventually remarried, attained her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2010, earning Summa Cum Laude honors at John Brown University.
In 2011, Harry became a kindergarten teacher at the age of 33.
“I won’t say it’s been easy, but today I can say I have broken the cycle,” Harry told the group.
She thanked Havenwood and other organizations like Single Parent Scholarship, for which she was a two-time recipient. Harry then took out a “Damn Doll” that she was given during her stay at Havenwood. She told the group when times were tough and she needed to vent frustrations, the “Damn Doll” came in handy.
“I just took the doll and slammed it down three times saying DAMN, DAMN DAMN,” Harry demonstrated for the group, who then erupted in applause and laughter.
In all sincerity, Harry said Havenwood gave her the tools and support she needed to lift herself up from the broken patterns of poverty, abuse and chemical dependency she had known her entire life.
The breakfast was a fundraising effort launched by the marketing team at Wal-Mart, who selected the charity as one of several organizations they wanted to help this year.
Havenwood operates on an annual budget of roughly $280,000 and relies on fundraisers like the breakfast in which $13,000 was raised.
The nonprofit has one full-time staff member, Schnedler, and a half-time development/marketing director, Cox.
“We have a part time case manager and part time counseling who are contracted, but because of events like today’s breakfast, collaborations with other nonprofits and new grant funding those two positions will become full-time in October,” Cox said.
Wednesday’s breakfast also featured Wanda Young, vice president of marketing and digital media for Wal-Mart, who spoke on leadership.
Young shared a personal family story about how leaders rise to the occasion. She told a story of a young Japanese girl whose Tokyo home was destroyed during World War II bombings. That young lady, Kimi Suchia, was forced to another city where she later met and married an American GI who brought her to the United States.
The couple had six children before he contracted cancer and died at age 44. Young said that lady had to take the leadership reins, find work, learn to drive a car and manage the family’s lean finances.
“Like her mother before her, Kimi found herself a single mom, not to one child, but six ranging in age from a college freshman to a kindergartener,” Young said. “Kimi Suchia became a leader even though it was not by choice. She is my mom.”
Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, Young said leaders are "those people who are not afraid to stop and look fear in the face." She said leaders rise up with courage and confidence every time they face their fears and do things they never thought possible.
As a volunteer, Young said the time she has spent at Havenwood this year getting to know the residents has been an amazing testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Young challenged those attending to inspire others to lead, because when they do, the community at large can be enriched.
“Someone along the way encouraged Crystal Harry to lead, and just think she may be teaching your child someday,” Young said.