15th Luau fundraiser helps disabled adults gain independence

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 185 views 

ROGERS — Hawaiian shirts, bright colors and bright smiles were the order of the day at the 15th annual Open Avenues Spring Fling Luau Saturday (May 19) at the Embassy Suites of Northwest Arkansas in Rogers.

Dinner, drinks and dancing to live music were complimentary activities to the silent and live auctions which raised money for the non-profit organization Open Avenues.

Open Avenues, formerly known as the Benton County Adult Development Center, began in 1975 and provides a comfortable atmosphere for adults with disabilities to be educated and trained for jobs. They gain the life skills they need to live independently. It began with a handful of parents who wanted more and improved options for their children’s quality of life.

“We think we’re going to raise more money than we’ve ever raised before,” said Allison McElroy, foundation director of Open Avenues. “We’re hoping for $100,000.”

Sponsorships totaling $65,000 and money raised during the event put the group within range of its goal.

Matt Turner, news anchor for KNWA, was the event’s emcee.

“I’ve seen a lot of events,” he said. “But this group is very near to my heart. It has been ever since I went to see the facility, saw what they do and met their volunteers.”
Turner said it was McElroy’s passion for the organization that also inspired him to want to help the organization.

“I got involved 10 years ago,” said Sam Dunn, honorary chairman of the 2012 Spring Fling. “When I took a tour of the facilities, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.  It has a positive impact on lives.”

For the past few years, Open Avenues has honored one of its members with the Spirit Award.

“It goes to the person who best demonstrates characteristics that make Open Avenues the place that it is,” said Brenda Neal, Open Avenues’ executive director.

This year, the honor went to Billy Roe.

“He feels deep compassion for others. He offers words of encouragement, shows up each day, gets work done,” Neal said of Roe. “He’s loyal to the program.” As Roe took the stage, the full house delivered a standing ovation. The menial clatter of dishes clanking and guests whispering over tables that had continued through other announcements stopped as they listened to what he had to say.

“I always ask my Mom why I’m here,” Roe said. “And she always says ‘God has something in place for you.’ Now I believe that’s with Open Avenues.”

Stephanie Huy of the Open Avenues Legacy Foundation Board and Rhonda Woodruff, a member of the Spring Fling Committee, were also honored for their indispensable efforts for the Spring Fling.

“We couldn’t do this without their efforts. They’ve done (this work) forever,” Neal said

In the silent auction, guests had the chance to bid on nearly 200 items provided by local businesses. The room opened an hour before dinner was served, giving everyone a chance to browse casually, ponder their bids over dinner, peruse more after the awards and then make their crucial bids in the last moments.

Popular items ranged steeply in price and interest, from items such as restaurant gift cards and a big box of energy-efficient lightbulbs, to a trip to the Cayman Islands.

Christi Gallagher has attended the event for a few years now. “This time I bid on a Coach Handbag,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to win, but it’s worth a shot.”

Scott Lewis had difficulty deciding on an item for bidding, since he had his eye on the box of lightbulbs but recently bought a large supply of them.

Elizabeth Duncan, resources director for Open Avenues, donated a guided Buffalo River camping trip. “So I’m trying not to bid on anything,” she insisted. But as she surveyed the auction items, her game plan become increasingly difficult to stick to.

In the live auction, a cruise sold for $1,200, a dinner for eight sold for $1,500, a trip to San Francisco went for $3,750 and a catered sushi dinner for 20 guests went for $1,800.

Proceeds will keep the Open Avenues bus system running, which transports 90 percent of the people it serves, covering at least 8,000 miles each month.