Giggles, guffaws and peals of laughter rang through the crowd gathered for the NWA Heart Ball at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers on Saturday (May 9) as more than 800 guests traded their dancing shoes for a comedy showcase.
The American Heart Association’s (AHA) 16th annual fundraising event, which usually features dancing, changed their focus this year to carry the theme, “Laugh Out Loud” (LOL), by featuring two nationally known comedians, Dwayne Perkins and Eric Schwartz.
Rebecca Buerkle, communications director for the AHA, said organizers wanted to try something that would be completely different from past years in order to put a new spin on the event and have something fresh and new.
“They say laughter is the best medicine. It has the effects of reducing stress and boosting the good cholesterol,” she said. “We are taking advantage of the heart healthy benefits of laughter, and bringing the comedians in was just something we really wanted to try.”
Perkins, a Brooklyn native, has made several appearances on Comedy Central and Conan, as well as a recurring piece on The Jay Leno Show. Schwartz is known for his musical comedy, physical antics and social commentary. He has appeared on The Tonight Show, Showtime, Comics Unleashed and BET.
Jake McBride of KIX 104 Radio and Jay Plyburn, Channel 5 News, served as the evening’s emcees and shared hosting duties with the event’s co-chairs, Marcus and Dr. Cara Osborne.
In addition to the comedy, guests learned about the importance of donating to the mission of the AHA by hearing the story of 5-year-old Ryder Roark, the evening’s featured survivor. Ryder, his twin brother, Rowe, and their parents, Roman and Casey were on hand to share Ryder’s story of being diagnosed last year with severe coarctation of the aorta. This is a condition where the body’s main artery narrows, and, if left untreated, can be fatal. Ryder had emergency surgery 10 months ago to correct the heart defect and is doing well.
After sharing their story, Roman Roark made a plea for donations to purchase pediatric blood pressure cuffs and stressed that the condition was discovered because Ryder’s pediatrician, Dr. Susan Averitt, had a pediatric blood pressure cuff in her office and did a routine check of his blood pressure.
“She saved my child’s life,” Roark said. “She had enough education to know that she should check the blood pressure of a four-year-old who had no clear signs, no clear symptoms of high blood pressure. But she checked his blood pressure and that’s what saved his life.”
Roark also called for a moment of silence to remember three-year-old Sloane Briggs, last year’s featured survivor, who lost her battle with heart disease.
Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects for children in the United States, Buerkle said, and affect about one in every 100 children.
“So, in Benton and Washington counties, there would be about 680 children who are affected by congenital heart defects,” she said.
The evening began with a special VIP reception called, the “Street Fair” which allowed each couple to enjoy games, prizes, a snack bar provided by Kellogg’s and a cash bar, plus other street Fair adventures, for an additional $200 donation. Adam Pete, a 60-second caricature artist, was also on hand to create one-of-a-kind drawings for guests.
Across the hall, guests could browse tables filled with lavish silent auction items such as Lacoste sunglasses, a shopping spree at Klothe, a chef-prepared dinner at home, AMP tickets to see the Steve Miller Band and a Lokomotion Family Fun Pack.
Mobile bidding was a new addition to the silent auction this year and guests could begin to bid on items even before the event began. During the evening, they didn’t have to stand close to a bid sheet, but could concentrate on enjoying the evening and receive alerts on their phone when they had been outbid, Buerkle said.
The live auction, with auctioneer Richard Clifton, offered a Girls’ Day Out package, a golf trip for four and a hog hunt. Guests also bid on a Disney World Trip which was then donated to the Heskett family, whose son Keeten is a heart transplant survivor.
The 31 members of the 2015 “Sweetheart Class.” high school sophomores who volunteer, raise money and participate in educational programs for the AHA, were presented to the crowd, escorted by their father, brother or uncle. Two Sweethearts were recognized with special awards for their service. Hadley Biggs won the Helping Hand Award for donating the most community service hours, and Kaleigh Coenen won the Making A Difference Award for being the top fundraiser.
Kelloggs Energizer Personal Care and Northwest Health Systems were the main sponsors of the event. Unilever was the entertainment sponsor.
Organizers said the goal of the evening was to raise $525,000 for the American Heart Association.