story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula, special to The City Wire
The John Q. Hammons Center was jam-packed Saturday night (April 26) with more than 1,000 people for the 12th Starlight Gala, which benefitted the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.
People enjoyed dinner, drinks, live and silent auctions, and a performance by the award-winning country duo Thompson Square. The event is expected to raise $450,000, said Greg Russell, director of marketing for the NWACS. The proceeds amount to 13% of the shelter’s operating budget; 25% of the $3.4 million yearly costs comes from the state.
The NWACS has been a transitional shelter for abused and neglected children since 1993. Some of the kids were able to attend the Thompson Square’s sound check earlier in the day and “ended up having a mini-concert with the band,” Russell said.
“One of the kids jumped off stage and said, ‘I’m a rock star!,’” he said.
Funds raised came from sponsorships, donations and auctions, Russell said. The live auction generated large bills for the shelter, including a vacation package to a castle in France that sold for $14,000, and a vacation to the Mexican Riviera for $13,000.
The “special appeal” by Dick Trammel, philanthropist and Arkansas Highway Commission member, is a substantial part of the fundraising.
“Last year our goal was $50,000, and people contributed $100,000” in additional donations, Russell said. “We love Dick Trammel. He’s been an important part of the shelter almost since the beginning. ... I don’t know what kind of special pixie dust he has, but he can really inspire people to take out the checkbook.”
The program highlighted how the shelter uses holistic case management methods to help children in a short amount of time. Each child gets a unique case plan that addresses all potential needs: medical, dental, emotional, social and educational.
“It cuts across all aspects of what we do for the kids,” he said. “It’s one of the key programs that makes a difference in changing the direction of their lives.”
One of the speakers was Megan Anthony, who was a resident at the shelter ten years ago.
“She saw the downward spiral that her mother went into because of mental and substance abuse problems,” Russell said.
Anthony occasionally encounters her mother, who is now homeless, “and it’s just heartbreaking for her [Anthony]. She’s done all she can do to help her.”
Anthony is on the logistics team at Wal-Mart and an officer in the Arkansas National Guard.
“About 80% of the kids who come to us are victims of ‘environmental neglect,’ which is just a fancy way of saying the parents aren’t meeting the child’s basic needs,” Russell explained. “We teach them the routines and skills they’ll need in foster care, which is where most of them go after they leave here.”
The event also had a record number of sponsors at 66.