story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
Red was the color of the evening as a thousand people packed Fayetteville Town Center Saturday (Jan. 25) to attend the 13th annual Paint the Town Red event that raises money for the American Heart Association.
For a $75 ticket, people enjoyed food, drink, live music and a silent auction. The event is expected to raise up to $170,000 for the AHA, said Christina Hinds, AHA senior social event director for the Northwest Arkansas affiliate.
“We sell out every year,” Hinds said. “Not only are our events fun, but the issue of heart disease hits home for many people because it’s the number one killer of Americans.”
The featured survivor this year was 3-year-old Keeten Heskett, who was born with congenital heart disease that led to two open-heart surgeries and a heart transplant last year. He was unable to attend the event last year, Hinds said.
“This year people can see he’s a fun, energetic boy,” Hinds said. “His parents are so blessed to have him.”
After appearing onstage, Keeten danced with his aunt and grandmother to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” He was wide-eyed at his first rock ‘n’ roll concert.
The AHA focuses on heart disease in children by featuring young survivors like Keeten at events.
“Congenital heart disease is the number one killer of children, so we try to bring it to the forefront,” Hinds said. “Sometimes people have a stereotypical view that heart disease only affects older men, but it affects people of all ages and gender.”
Zach Simpson of Wal-Mart and Stephanie Simpson of Constellation Brands have served as the event’s chairman and chairwoman for two years. The Simpsons are heavily involved in the AHA “because they have some family history” of heart disease, Hinds said.
“They are passionate about it because it’s so personal to them.”
Emcees at the event were Angela Taylor, anchorwoman for 40/29 news, Craig Strickland of Arkansas CW, and Michael Kaufman of Kix 104. The City Wire was a media sponsor of the event. Memphis-based musicians Almost Famous rocked a diverse array of tunes from Michael Jackson to Journey.
“77 cents of every dollar” goes directly toward AHA programs and research, Hinds said.
The organization meets the Better Business Bureau “accredited charity” standards, and stated that 79% of the more than $600 million raised in 2012 went toward programs and research.
Johnson & Johnson has sponsored a “Safe Ride Home” service “for a number of years,” Hinds said. This year they partnered with a car service to help prevent drunken driving.
The AHA “is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting cardiovascular diseases,” according to its website.