FAYETTEVILLE — Dream Big!, the signature fundraiser for the Children’s Safety Center in Springdale, took place Saturday night (July 21) at the Fayetteville Town Center. The event featured live music by the band Mr. Happy, a dinner catered by Mojito’s Mexican Grill and a silent auction of items for virtually every interest.
The Children’s Safety Center provides full-circle therapy and care for physically and sexually abused children, completely free of charge to the families of the victims. The center’s staff is a comprehensive team made of child advocates, forensic interviewers, a forensic nurse and a clinical therapist.
“Advocates stay with clients as long as the families need them, even after the investigation,” said Elizabeth Shackelford, executive director of the Children’s Safety Center.
Some 450 people were expected to attend the event, including those who signed on as sponsors.
“It’s been amazing to see the sponsors and donations,” Shackelford said.
Auction items were arranged by themes of home, kids interests, men’s interests, pets, tailgate, shopping and pampering. One of the most popular baskets was the Dickson Street basket, including nearly $1,200 worth of gift certificates to businesses on the archetypal street. Other eclectic items included a football signed by Frank Broyles and a Peanuts uncut sheet of trading cards. Guests made bids by submitting raffle tickets.
Dream Big! co-chairman Jordan Greer, after hearing the stories of the atrocities that the children in Northwest Arkansas have lived through, said he knew the Children’s Safety Center was the organization that could make a difference in children’s lives.
“You may not meet the children,” he said. “But when you open the newspaper [and see a new victim], it’s nice to know they’ll be helped by the center.”
He encouraged the guests to think about the victims that would need help in the next weeks and to consider giving to a cause that has an immediate impact on the community’s well-being.
Shaughn Reyenga, a member of the center’s staff, said that working for the center is challenging but rewarding work.
“I love the job, but it’s difficult,” he said. “You’ll never forget these children after working with them.”
One of the things that sets the center apart, Reyenga said, is that it is particularly child-friendly, rather than being a strictly clinical setting.
“We let them paint their hand and make a hand print on the wall,” he said, referring to the clinic’s lobby, which is covered in hand prints from each of the children that have been served. “When they see all the handprints on our wall, it lets them know they’re not the only ones who have gone through these things. They’re not alone.”
Kim Pierce, an investigator with the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division, announced Gary Conner as this year’s Ordinary Heroes Award winner.
“We select one member, an ordinary person who makes extraordinary contributions,” she said.
Pierce recalled one moment in particular that she knew Connor went above and beyond his duties at the center, a time when he quietly donated money to make sure a child had clothing to wear.
The Dream Big! event requires a handful of committees to organize collection of auction items, sell tickets and abet sponsorships. This year’s Committee Award went to Richard Watkins.