Spark of Hope ignites record donations for single parents

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 209 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — There wasn’t a dry eye in the house — or at least on the stage — as past and present Single Parent Scholarship Fund recipients talked about how financial help from the Northwest Arkansas affiliate helped them achieve their goals for an education.

The occasion was the organization’s 10th annual Spark of Hope benefit, the group’s largest annual fundraiser, conducted Thursday night (June 21) at the Fayetteville Town Center. This year’s affair grossed more than $365,000, including $28,500 raised from donations collected from guests at the dinner. The amount garnered from the direct appeal for gifts was the most given at any Spark of Hope event.

The fund’s reach was most evident in the words of 13-year-old Nicole Berlanga, daughter of graduate Judith Yanez. The girl stood in front of the crowd of 300-plus and talked of her own high hopes for an education. She has her eye on becoming a psychiatrist and obtaining a Harvard law degree.

Her dreams are buoyed by what her mother’s been able to accomplish with help from the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas (SPSFNWA). Yanez earned a bachelor’s degree in math and is pursuing master’s degree in math with plans of teaching.

Nicole’s take-away from her mother’s experience: “If you want the best in life, never give up.”

The crowd also heard from Mandi Beesler, an active scholarship recipientl Andrea Mutzhaus, a graduate now working in her dream job as a teacher; and board member Ric Cooper, who spoke from the perspective as an investor in the SPSFNWA.
The stories told at Spark of Hope pulled on the heartstrings of donors and made the case for increased support. But the event was more than a fundraiser; organizers took the chance to recognize individual and corporate contributors and award endowed scholarships to active students. Cost to endow a scholarship is $25,000.
The big news of the night was the addition of a second endowed scholarship by Cooper, the board member. The Bogdanow Daseke Endowed Scholarship is named for two of Cooper’s former colleagues who were also his mentors. The first scholarship went to Jackki Blough.

Board Members Karen Hodges and John Threet recognized Blough as an endowed scholar with the rest of the 2012 Endowed Scholarship Award recipients: Mary Skelton, Charlotte Langworthy Forsythe Endowed Scholarship; Tina Smith, Diane Blair Memorial Scholarship; Jennifer Jones, Thomas Alan Jacoway Memorial Scholarship; Judith Yanez, Lois M. Fry Memorial Scholarship; Stephanie Seuyaphanh, Lois J. Imhoff Single Parent Scholarship; Renae Chandler, Elaine M. Longer Endowed Scholarship; Melissa Veach, Forsythe Family Endowed Scholarship; Shalaleh Khoei, Willard and Pat Walker Endowed Scholarship; Dawn Walter, Alford Sherman Endowed Scholarship; Brittney Peace, Richard F. Cooper Endowed Scholarship; and Leelonna Payne, Community Hope Endowed Scholarship.

The Individual Spark of Hope award went to the late Art Fry, who was represented at the dinner by his son, Gene Fry from Massachusetts. The Walton Arts Center received the Community Partner Spark of Hope Award, and Tyson Foods Inc. received the Spark of Hope Award for corporate support.

The affair even honored the unsung heroes in the success of single parents who are trying to work and go to school at the same time — the companies and businesses who employ the students. Supportive Employer Awards went to Dr. Kirk Johnson of Fayetteville Chiropractic Orthopedic & Sports Injury Clinic, nominated by Johanna Valle, and McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc., nominated by Jennifer Jones.

The evening began with a cocktail reception in the town center’s lobby, then continued with a steak and shrimp dinner and the awards program in the center’s main ballroom.