story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula, special to The City Wire
Razorback spirit was not dampened by rain Saturday (Sept. 28) at the fourth annual Tailgate for the Kids event, which benefits the Northwest Arkansas Children's Shelter in Bentonville.
About 300 people showed up at the Tyson parking lot in Fayetteville to help raise more than $112,000 to help abused and neglected children in Arkansas. Fans enjoyed Hog Tide Bar B Que, drinks, a silent auction, and activities for kids and the young at heart.
Big-screen TVs were set up in the tent so fans could watch football and get in the mood for the Arkansas vs. Texas A&M showdown later in the evening. Former Razorback football players Michael Snowden and Ontraia Moss were on hand to mingle with fans and sign autographs.
The shelter raises 75% of its $3.4 million budget through donations and four fundraisers, including Tailgate for the Kids. The state pays less than 25% of its yearly costs, said marketing director Greg Russell.
The event began as a way to "get the community engaged and make new friends," especially in Washington County where the shelter is less well-known.
"The tailgate is a way for us to tie into something Northwest Arkansas is really passionate about: Razorback football," Russell said. "We want people to feel just as passionate about helping kids in Northwest Arkansas."
"I think people have this perception that child abuse and neglect is not a problem in Northwest Arkansas because this area has the reputation as one of the more affluent parts of the state," Russell said. "But if that were true, we wouldn't be doing what we do."
The NWACS is unique in the services it provides children. Not only does it serve as a safe place for children to stay for up to six weeks, the shelter also takes kids to doctors and dentists.
"We consistently make about 1,100 trips to doctors and dentists every year," Russell said.
Dr. Emily Fourmy is a pediatric dentist who attended the event.
"I see a lot of the children in the shelter," she said. "I'm here because I know it's a good cause and I want to help in any way I can."
Teachers are on hand to make sure kids continue their education during their stay.
"We're the only emergency shelter in Northwest Arkansas that has an on-site school," Russell said. "It's amazing that these kids can make up months or even years of lost ground in school in the short time they're with us."
Counselors help kids cope with their circumstances.
"When I took this job I was expecting that the shelter would be a sad place to work, but I was wrong: when these kids are in a safe, secure environment and given the respect and affection they deserve, they're just happy little kids," Russell said.
The Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter serves about 600 abused and neglected kids per year.