story and photos by Michael Tilley
About 275 women gathered Thursday to raise an estimated $8,000 for a program that provides books to about 2,200 children in Sebastian, Crawford, Logan and Franklin counties.
They also received a message from motivational speaker Kelly Swanson about the importance of “getting out of your comfort zone” if you want to make a difference in the world.
“Nobody notices you when you blend in,” Swanson said during her comments to the crowd gathered at Phoenix Expo Center for the luncheon event.
Ginger Beebe, wife of Gov. Mike Beebe was in attendance at the “Power of the Purse” event hosted by the United Way Fort Smith Area.
The 7th annual event raises money to support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program.
“We are grateful to everyone who participated in this year’s event,” Power of the Purse Committee member and Arvest employee Cindy Barker said in a statement. “This event is so important to the community because it helps to put books in the hands of area children. Without Imagination Library, many children would simply not have books in their home and would therefore be at high risk to fall behind developmentally. This program helps to correct that problem and foster in them a love for reading at an early age.”
The program sends an age-appropriate book a month to children from birth through their fifth birthday. About 2,200 children in Sebastian, Crawford, Logan and Franklin counties are enrolled in the program. Studies show that a child with a personal library of at least 25 books performs significantly better in school.
“It’s so important that when kids start kindergarten they are ready to read,” said Mitzy Little, United Way Fort Smith marketing director.
United Way officials said they estimate raising about $8,000 from the Thursday luncheon that included a fashion show and silent auction.
The regional Imagination Library program also is funded through the United Way, Women’s Leadership Circle, private donations and corporate grants.
During her remarks, Swanson urged the women to not get bogged down in trying to be something they are not. She said people “want authenticity, not perfection,” and added later that they each “have the power to change your view.”
Swanson, who grew up in Georgia and now lives in High Point, N.C., told the story of her young son wearing a sheet for a cape running around the house and jumping on the furniture. She told him to stay off the furniture because he could fall and hurt himself. Her son responded: “Some days you just have to trust your cape.”
And that was her message to the women: To trust the cape, and not be afraid to jump out of their comfort zone in an effort to improve their lives or improve the world around them.