NWA Children’s Shelter marks 20 years of healing, hope

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 191 views 

Born out of need, the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter is a safe haven and emergency intervention for children in crisis. The center held a 20th anniversary birthday event on Tuesday, April 1, welcoming back those who helped found the mission and one whose life was changed as a young resident in 2003.

A large crowd of supporters gathered at the Children’s Shelter’s 81-acre Highfill campus for the celebration. The April 1 date for the belated birthday bash was chosen to coincide with the commencement of National Child Abuse Awareness Month.

The Children’s Shelter officially opened its doors on Dec. 6, 1993, with five girls in residence. Some 20 years later more than 7,200 children have found refuge there.

“The fact that Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter even exists is a testament to the compassionate and responsive nature of this community,” said Steve Schotta, executive director of Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter. “But when you look at the degree to which the community has supported the Children’s Shelter for the past two decades, enabling us to add services beyond a ‘bed-and-board’ model and expand capacity to serve more and more children, it is truly staggering – particularly when you see firsthand, as we do, the transforming power that this safe haven they have created can have on abused and neglected kids’ lives.”

Megan Anthony arrived at the shelter in 2003 as a 13-year-old who had already been in and out the foster care system most of her life as her young unwed mother drifted in and out of long bouts of depression.

Anthony spoke at Tuesday’s event saying the shelter was the first time in her life that she really felt safe, like everything was going to be taken care of. Anthony had spent much of her young life as the default caretaker of younger siblings. Today, 24-year-old Anthony is an area manager with Walmart Logistics and is a lieutenant in the Arkansas National Guard.

“I guess it’s a happy ending,” she said. “I am very comfortable with where I am in my life.”

During the past two decades the NWA Children’s Shelter has provides refuge and 24-hour adult supervison and all the essential necessities to more than 7,200 children.

Good and services provided since Dec. 6, 1993 by the NWA Children’s Shelter:
• 521,640 nutritious meals 
• 347,760 healthy snacks
• 127,000 miles driven transporting children to and from medical, dental appointments.
• 434,700 articles of clothing, personal items distributed to those who leave the center.
• 81,500 hours provided to residents for homework help.
• 500 birthday parties for their residents.
• 275,940 diapers changed.
• 1.2 million man-hours supervising the kids entrusted in the center’s care.

Jeffrey Harsh, vice president of the shelter’s board of directors, said the annual budget has grown from $148,000 to about $3.6 million over the past two decades to accommodate the growing need.

The Children’s Shelter also used the occasion to unveil a new awareness initiative that will run throughout the month of April – in observance of National Child Abuse Awareness Month.

The initiative features cardboard-cutout awareness exhibits that will be on display in 35 Arvest Bank branches throughout Northwest Arkansas. These displays tie into an April Fool’s theme with a photo of a smiling boy, juxtaposed against the attention-getting headline: “DON’T BE FOOLED – by my Smile: I am an Abused Child.” 

The displays point out that child abuse is a big problem, even in affluent Northwest Arkansas. One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse by the time they are 18.

Last year the Child Advocacy Center of Benton County opened 646 cases of substantiated sexual abuse, conducted 625 forensic interviews, performed 149 forensic exams, and provided 1,513 counseling sessions to children and their families. Also this month across Benton County pinwheels will be placed at police station office lawns to signify each reported case of sexual child abuse in the county. This pinwheel for prevention campaign is another local initiative to raise awareness.