Gala helps Safety Center preserve children’s dreams

story and photos by Debbie Miller, special to The City Wire

Chris Thornton sees child abuse as the thing no one wants to talk or think about. But in his role as president of the board of directors for the Children’s Safety Center, he’s helping bring awareness to the issue. He’s also playing a role in improving the lives of countless children.

“I want to see kids become the best they can be,” Thornton said.

Thornton was one of hundreds of people attending the Dream Big Charity Gala on Saturday (July 19) at Fayetteville Town Center. The annual fundraiser benefits the Children’s Safety Center, which in 2013, provided services to 533 children.

The Children’s Safety Center in Springdale is a child-friendly, family-centered organization that coordinates the investigation, prosecution, and treatment services to child victims of sexual and physical abuse in Washington County, according to the agency’s website.

The center brings together a team of professionals that includes law enforcement, child protective services, victim service providers, prosecutors, medical personnel, mental health professionals and community volunteers. The team works together to ensure that the best interest of the child victim is being served.

The Dream Big gala was the eighth annual fundraiser for the nonprofit organization. Videos aired during the event featured staff members talking about their work and some of the issues faced by the children served. Children’s handprints in a rainbow of colors were visible on the walls in the background, a testimony to the numbers of children served since the nonprofit agency opened in 1997.

Emily Rappe, development director for the center, asked audience members to open their hearts to what’s going in the community and consider giving to the cause. “Dreams worth saving” was a special focus of the gala. The event fundraising goal was $65,000.

The Children’s Safety Center presented two awards during the evening’s program.

Karis Chastain, an Arkansas State Police investigator, received the 2014 Ordinary Hero Award, which is described as an award for an ordinary hero doing extraordinary things. Adam Crites, who presented the honor, said there are three types of people in the world: sheep (the innocent people of society), wolves (the depraved among society who prey on those sheep) and the sheepdog, who stands between the wolf and the sheep to end the violence and protect the sheep. He described Chastain as clearly a sheepdog.

John Threet, prosecuting attorney for the 4th Judicial District, received the 2014 Extraordinary Hero Award for his work with and support of the Children’s Safety Center throughout the years. Threet will become a circuit judge in January. When he spoke a few moments later during a special appeal, Threet told the audience that he believes “There’s no loftier goal than trying to bring a child out of despair.”

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Richard and Jordan Watkins of presenting sponsor Johnson & Johnson served as 2014 Dream Big Charity Gala chairmen. Richard Watkins said they could not serve in the role without the dedicated staff, the more than 200 businesses providing support for the gala, and the gala committee members who worked tirelessly to plan and present the fundraiser. Watkins said more than 5,000 hours went toward preparing for the gala.

Sarah White will be the 2015 gala chair.

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