story and photos by Brittany Ransom
The Children's Emergency Shelter heated up the Fort Smith River Pavilion on Saturday (May 31) evening as it hosted the second annual "Havana Nights." Presented by the Fiori Family, the "party with a purpose" featured Cuban-inspired food and drink, Salsa music, and hand rolled cigars, all mixed with a laid-back island style just perfect for kicking off the summer season.
Sporting their best island attire, hundreds of guests made their way through the party pavilion, dining on delicious Cuban food and cocktails. Trays of fresh fruit and delectable Sweet Boutique cupcakes were also set up throughout the room, along with brightly decorated tables and seating areas. A photo booth, complete with humorous props, was located in the corner for guests to help capture fun memories of their evening.
The party extended out onto the patio, where award-winning band, Calle Soul, performed lively Salsa music. Alongside the dining tables, a tasting station was set up for guests to sample a wide-selection of specialty rums. The Havana Cigar tent also offered party-goers the option to lounge and enjoy premium hand rolled cigars and specialty brewed beer.
Tables of silent auction items filled the room, featuring items such as tickets to Razorback sporting events, an official Greenbay Packers football signed by Fort Smith native Bret Goode , an 18-bottle wine enthusiast wine refrigerator stocked with quality wine, and a first edition signed Parker Beam Bourbon. Other unique items included a 30-gallon Japanese Maple, a "Billiards, Beer, & BBQ Party" for eight, and a number of premium cigars.
The live auction got underway at 9 p.m. with guest auctioneer Jan Nordin at the helm. Guests gathered on the patio to bid on several high-end prize packages including a Lake Ouachita getaway, a "Zip, Zing, and Fly" zip-line adventure on the Buffalo River, and a "Paired Affair" wine and dinner for four on Fayetteville's historic Dickson Street. Shinola timepiece watches, a genuine UZI rifle, and a one-of-a-kind Damascus Dagger were also popular items up for grabs.
In addition to the live and silent auctions, guests could take their chances in the Domino 50/50 Raffle. Tickets could be purchased for $10 or three for $25.
Tickets to Havana Nights were $75, with all proceeds benefiting CES and its general operations. Organizers hoped to raise $100,000 from the event. The shelter serves children ages 6-17 who have been removed from the custody of their home due to neglect and/or abuse.
"Sebastian County has the largest population of foster youth in the state of Arkansas, and the majority of these youth are victims," noted Ashley Ahlert, CES Advancement Coordinator. "It is unfortunate that we have to exist but we are proud to serve the children and provide a structured environment that helps them cope with the turmoil they are experiencing."
Over the past three years, the Children's Emergency Shelter has expanded its services and made significant facility improvements, allowing it to increase its capacity from 18 to 24 children. The organization serves approximately 250 children annually.
"We have remodeled the interior of CES, added a 95 kilowatt generator, and enlarged our parking facility by 60%," said Ahlert. "We have also expanded our tutoring program to include more tutors that are board certified."
The organization also has several long-term goals for the organization in order to better serve area children and youth in need.
"Our future includes a three-part expansion project that will provide a walk-in pantry and refrigerator space, a garage conversion that will become the community conference room and host our private tutoring and counseling sessions for the children, and gymnasium expansion that will offer more room for the kids to play and also house our clothing closet," added Ahlert. "We are also in the process of forming a Foundation, and working with the Junior League of Fort Smith on the possible expansion of Independent Living services for youth who are "aging out" of foster care."
For more information about the Children's Emergency Shelter, call 783-0018.