story and photos by Ruby Dean
With temperatures dipping below freezing a couple of days ago, the weather warmed up to the low 40s which made for a nice, cool morning for the fourth annual Polar Bear Walk on Saturday (Jan. 11). The event was held at Creekmore Park in Fort Smith.
Kim Vann, event chair, and Mary Dale Colvett, Girls Shelter executive director, began the walk by welcoming all participants and thanking everyone for their support. Colvett explained that all proceeds from the walk benefit the shelter which cares for girls, age 12-17 who are removed from their homes by the court system.
“We provide a one year residential facility program for girls that are court ordered into our program. Girls that enter our program have been removed from their homes for many different reasons. We provide transportation, housing, and all needs. The girls receive individual and family counseling and goals are also set up and monitored,” said Colvett.
Colvett also said the girls are required to attend the Fort Smith Public School System. Tutoring is available at the home eight hours a day. There is an educational reward program within the shelter, and if the girls maintain a “C” during a nine weeks’ period, they get to choose where to go out to eat dinner. Also, if their behavior is good during a nine week period, they get to do a fun activity like to go to a movie. The rewards are the girls’ choice, Colvett explained.
“The program also teaches kids social and independent living skills. They are given a sense of self-worth and taught to be responsible for their actions and decisions,” said Colvett. “We strive to develop our residents into responsible citizens and community members. Our long-term goal is to reunite the resident with her family.”
The Girls Shelter is a nonprofit organization licensed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Founded in 1970, the shelter’s goal is “to provide a safe, structured homelike atmosphere while encouraging behavior modification.” Since opening, the shelter has provided a home for more than 700 local girls. The organization can house up to nine girls at one time with the average being seven. As of right now, there is a waiting list.
After completing two laps around the park, participants could enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and pick up their goody bag donated by the event sponsors.