story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
Around 350 people enjoyed a memorable Thursday evening (Feb. 13) at the 7th annual “It’s a Wonderful Life” gala, which benefitted Youth Bridge, a nonprofit organization based in Northwest Arkansas that helps teenagers and young adults in overcome homelessness, family strife and substance abuse.
The event was held at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers.
“We expect to gross $150,000, which will go toward our transitional living program,” said Scott Linebaugh, Youth Bridge executive director.
The transitional living program is for young adults like Josh McKee. He spoke about how the program has helped him progress from homelessness to being a Web programming student with a part-time job.
“I was living in a tent in the park; I could have been stabbed for whatever I had or didn’t have,” he said. “I could be in jail or dead, who knows, without Youth Bridge.”
The transitional living program was affected by government budget cuts last year, Linebaugh said.
“We had to lay off around 40 people,” he said. “It was a messy period for us.”
Most of the employees have since been re-hired.
Event goers enjoyed silent and live auctions, supper, drinks and a grand finale balloon pop. After supper guests participated in a trivia game show, “Thinkfast,” which was a new addition this year.
“We’ve done Thinkfast before with kids, as a tournament for high schools, but this is the first year we’ve had it at the gala,” Linebaugh said.
The winning table had $1,200 of sponsorship money donated to Youth Bridge in their names.
The gala was originally scheduled for December.
“After our layoffs we didn’t have the manpower to get it done so we had to change the date to tonight,” Linebaugh said. “Coincidentally, it turns out the night we had planned to do it there was an ice storm.”
The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of Youth Bridge, which was founded in 1963 as Boyland. The organization has undergone many expansions since then, and is still expanding. Youth Bridge’s capital campaign has raised $450,000 of the $1.2 million needed to complete a 3-building complex in Springdale.
“We have a residential substance abuse center out there already,” Linebaugh said.
The plans include a larger residential substance abuse center, an educational living area with a kitchen and dining room, and an outpatient support installation.
Youth Bridge helps teens and young adults from across the state, and although they can be “self-referred,” many find their way into the programs through courts or state agencies.
“It’s a misconception that kids have to be in trouble with the law to get into our programs,” Linebaugh said. “Many times they just need a place to stay because there is something going on in their families such as abuse.”
Youth Bridge operates different residential programs: foster care, substance abuse treatment, an emergency shelter, and the transitional living program.
“We’ve seen demand growing primarily because our Northwest Arkansas community is growing,” Linebaugh said. “Substance abuse services are the most in demand right now,” he said. “Both our inpatient and outpatient substance abuse programs are growing.”