story by Jamie Smith, with submitted photos
A child in crisis needs a safe place to sleep and food to eat. That’s essentially what the State of Arkansas provides for children at the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.
Well, 16 of them at least.
The shelter has enough beds for 48 children and usually has about 42 to 46 students at a time. Those children receive more than a bed and food, they have access to many services including onsite counseling, on-the-premise school and field trips.
The additional children who receive help at the shelter have access to those resources because the Northwest Arkansas Community — from individuals to corporations — have stepped up to make those resources possible.
The state pays $84 per day per child for a total annual stipend of $492,195, said Linda Phillips, director of development. The shelter’s three-year contract ends in July but information from the state regarding finances indicates that the shelter should not hope for an increase any time soon.
“They are letting people know there are no increases coming,” she said.
The state funding accounts for about 20% of the shelter’s funding and the other 80% comes from donations and fundraisers. Community members also donate their time to the shelter to help keep up the facilities, spend time with the children and other outreach projects. Other donations include in-kind gifts of specific needed items that the shelter needs.
“The shelter would not exist without the generosity of the community,” said Steve Schotta, executive director. “The community made the decision to do everything possible (to make the shelter a success).”
The community funding comes from a variety of sources including the shelter’s key fundraisers such as the Starlight Gala, Golf Classic and Tailgate for the Kids. The funding through these means comes both in the form of ticket sales and corporate sponsorships that defray the costs, meaning more money can be funneled towards helping children.
This year’s Tailgate for Kids, held Oct. 13, set a record with a net proceeds of more than $132,000 (compared to last year’s $90,000 raised).
The shelter’s Annual Giving Manager Frankie Rankin and Schotta credited the record-setting performance to the Tailgate for the Kids Steering Committee’s efforts to secure increased sponsor participation.
“The formula for succeeding with this kind of an event is very much like the approach it takes to succeed on the football field – talented people who develop and execute a sound game-plan. It takes dedication and hard work, and the Tailgate Committee scored, big-time,” said Schotta. “But their victory is even more meaningful when you realize that 100% of the net proceeds of this event go to help abused and neglected kids, who need some ‘wins’ in their lives. And it is our community – with people like our Tailgate Committee and our wonderful corporate sponsors – who help us to help them achieve those everyday victories.”
The shelter also has programs available where individuals can donate to the shelter either in person, by mail, or online. One program is the shelter’s Circle of Care giving club program. Membership is open to all people who wish to support the mission of the Children’s Shelter with an annual gift of at least $500 per year.
Greg Russell, director of marketing for the shelter, said that throughout the year the shelter shares many positive stories about the impact that the shelter has on children’s lives. Spreading that message is a big part of helping people be more aware and more willing to be involved.
Often the financial donations are for general operating funds, other times they are for specific purposes. In September, for example, Tyson Foods awarded a $64,000 grant to the shelter to fund its nutritional foods program.
“This donation is another example of our company’s ongoing efforts in the fight against hunger,” said Ed Nicholson, who oversees Tyson Foods’ hunger-relief efforts. “We’re grateful for the work of the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter and are proud to help ensure at-risk children are receiving the nutritious food they need to be healthy.”
Another funding source comes from third-party fundraisers. A growing number of organizations and companies have fundraisers or events where the proceeds benefit the shelter, Phillips said. Sometimes the benefit is to raise money, other times it is to provide specific items that the shelter needs to help the children.
For example, Orange Leaf stores in Northwest Arkansas are hosting a benefit from Nov. 9 through Dec. 16. Customers who donate one new pair of pajamas at Northwest Arkansas Orange Leaf locations will be rewarded with three ounces of free frozen yogurt in exchange for their donations.
“Orange Leaf is an unconventional brand and we wanted to do something different from the more traditional food or coat drive this holiday season,” said Reese Travis, CEO of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt. “Memories of cozy pajamas during the winter months warm our souls. Through our Pajama Drive, Orange Leaf is hoping to help thousands of people stay a little warmer this winter, too. Sometimes it’s the simple things like a warm pair of pajamas that can really make a difference.”
Other donations are for in-kind items, such as the cereal from General Mills or paper goods from Kimberly Clark, Russell said.
“Every time we don’t have to spend money on those items is money we can spend somewhere else,” he said.
There are many projects that need to be done at the shelter including maintenance and spending time with the children. Employees from GE Capital have been involved with the shelter for 10 years, including corporate sponsorships and volunteering to work committees involved in planning fundraisers. They also spend many hours at the shelter interacting one-on-one with the children.
Two years ago, they started a program where they visit the shelter and help the children create and stuff their own teddy bears. They provide costumes for the children to dress their own bears, too, said Mary Beck from GE’s client development department.
“It’s amazing to see the reaction on their faces for something that most of us take for granted,” she said. “The children have seen things that no one should see in a life time. This gives them a small amount of normalcy.”