Michelle Barnes, executive director of the nonprofit Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center, announced Sept. 17 that the center has raised almost 90 percent of a $14.3 million capital campaign to pay for the construction of a new 35,000-SF facility in Bentonville.
In addition to the new direct-service center, the campaign — named “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” — will also support the expansion of the center’s Early Childhood Initiatives Center, a sister company that was opened by the HWCEC in 2009 to support the 507 early childhood programs that provide care and education to more than 40,000 children in Northwest Arkansas.
Both centers are presently housed in a 32,000-SF building on Northeast Wildcat Way, behind Washington Junior High in Bentonville.
Barnes announced the news at a special event held at the location where the new facility will be built — an 8-acre site on a hayfield that runs along Northeast J Street, just south of the entrance to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
Community leaders including Lynne Walton of the Walton Family Foundation, Karen Parker of the Walmart Foundation, Sara Lilygren of Tyson Foods Inc. and Mike Malone of the Northwest Arkansas Council joined Barnes for a panel discussion to discuss the important role early childhood development has on the region’s economic and workforce development.
“Helen’s vision was to provide all children with access to high-quality care and education,” Walton said, referencing her mother-in-law. Helen Walton, wife of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton, was widely known for her philanthropy, and was instrumental in launching the nonprofit child care and development center for children of working parents in Northwest Arkansas. It was founded in 1982 and renamed in her honor in 1985. “This new facility will have far-reaching impact on children at the center and also offer training to other child care centers, thereby raising the quality of child care and education programming throughout Northwest Arkansas.”
Barnes noted that when the ECIC opened, 19 percent of centers in Northwest Arkansas were quality-accredited. Today, the accreditation level is almost 50 percent.
Lilygren, Tyson Foods’ executive vice president of corporate affairs, announced that the company was investing $250,000 toward the capital campaign, explaining that tomorrow’s workforce is being shaped by today’s early childhood programs.
Steven Williams of PepsiCo led the panel discussion. John King, deputy secretary of education at the U.S. Department of Education, and Linda K. Smith, deputy assistant secretary for early childhood development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also participated in the event.
Funding for the project will come primarily from the Walton Family Foundation, the Walmart Foundation and Tyson Foods.
“This is how Northwest Arkansas does it,” Malone said. “Public and private philanthropy gets the job done.”
The capital campaign is ongoing, with eight investment levels, ranging from $500 to $4,999, up to $1 million.
A timeline for construction was not announced, although the organization expects to have design renderings of the building next spring.
The project team includes Hight Jackson Associates of Rogers as the local architect, Harrison French & Associates of Bentonville as the engineer.
Little Rock-based East-Harding Inc. will lead the construction.