story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
Under a partially full moon and before a lunar eclipse, about 450 people gathered Saturday (April 12) to support the Sunshine School & Development Center, located in Rogers, at their annual gala. Horton Farms in Gravette hosted the event; the rural location was meant to be a departure from the “usual venues,” said Cyndi Bilyeu, executive director of the school.
The Sunshine School serves people of all ages who have special needs.
“The majority of our funding comes from Medicaid, but it’s not enough to cover everything,” Bilyeu said.
Fundraising dollars go to specialized therapeutic equipment and classroom supplies.
The gala is the larger of two fundraisers the school has each year. This year the event is expected to net $115,000, which was the goal. This was a 76 % increase from last year’s gala that netted $65,000. Bilyeu credits the increase to more sponsorships and visibility of the school in the community.
“We’ve also hired some more fundraising staff,” she said.
Kimberly Parker supports the organization because her son Ian is a graduate of the Sunshine School & Development Center.
“He is doing amazingly well,” she said. “When you drop your disabled 18-month-old off at school you want to know that he’s loved, and he was.”
Parker credits the school for her son’s “great start” because he learned social skills and classroom etiquette that prepared him for school. Parker’s husband Greg is the president of the school’s board of directors.
Along with supper, drinks and both silent and live auctions, people enjoyed Casino-style games of blackjack and poker. “Country chic” was the theme, and many dressed in their fanciest cowboy boots and Wranglers for the occasion.
Fayetteville-based country band Jamie Wolfe & The Wranglers provided live music at the event.
The school has been in northwest Arkansas since 1958, and it recently changed its name from Benton County Sunshine School.
“I think our advanced technology and talented staff sets us apart,” Bilyeu said.