Big money, big stars headline at the Starlight Gala

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 126 views 

It was a record-setting night for the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter’s main fundraiser event Saturday night (April 27), the Starlight Gala at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers, Ark.

More than $450,000 was raised from the ballroom filled with 1,300 attendees. More than $50,000 was raised with special live auction items consisting of Dallas Cowboys tickets, luxury accommodations at a French Chateau to a Mexican Villa Holiday, to name a few. Arkansas Highway Commissioner Dick Trammel headed a special offering which netted $94,922.

This is the 11th year for the event but the boost in fundraising came in the last three years.

“The progression and growth has been phenomenal,” said Greg Russell, director of marketing for the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.

He attributes the jump in success to developing corporate sponsorships. There were 63 sponsors this year compared to more than 40 last year. General Mills is the main sponsor and Russell said the company volunteered last year to take the Starlight Gala “to the next level.”

With General Mills partnering with Wal-Mart the event can draw big crowds and big money by showcasing big talent. Last year it was Rascal Flatts. This year it’s the hot country act The Band Perry. The bands are General Mills ambassadors for the company’s national hunger initiative and part of the obligation is to play at certain events, The Starlight Gala is one of them.

While monetary goals are surpassed, the money raised makes up 15% of the shelter’s budget.

Russell said for fiscal 2012, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, there were 832 foster children in four counties in Northwest Arkansas.

“That’s about 10% of kids in foster care in the state,” he said, “That’s a big share for us to have.”

As of March of this year, 436 children were in foster care in Washington and Benton counties.

Russell admits the money raised and the money still needed creates a unique situation.

“It’s a weird dichotomy in Northwest Arkansas,” he said, “We have extreme have’s and have not’s.”

The money raised at the gala goes towards the general operating fund for the shelter which operates on a budget of $3.3 million.

“Children come to us with the shirt on their back. They can be with us for six weeks and we provide everything they need. There’s nothing stockpiled. They take everything with them.”

The “special ask” of the night led by Trammel came by the inspiration of a 10-year-old-girl named Sophia Scott. She toured the shelter two years ago and decided to donate her communion money to the shelter sparking a program to be named in her honor.

The Sophia Scott Expanding Horizons Program is designed for children to experience activities that might be common to other fortunate children. It could be taking the 36 shelter children to McDonalds, Crystal Bridges Museum or to see a play at the Walton Arts Center.

“All the things we may take for granted as a kid, a lot of these kids haven’t experienced,” Russell said.

Scott was highlighted at the gala for her work and helped Trammel collect the donation cards around the room with a smattering of praise.

“At the shelter I saw kids who had been treated badly and abused and they deserve to have fun and not be serious yet,” Scott said, “This has changed me and I think of kids differently.”