Youth Bridge’s ‘Nox Stellata’ not another ‘boring gala’, set in a country club mansion

by Nancy Peevy ([email protected]) 1,852 views 

Guests of the Oct. 19 Youth Bridge fundraiser experienced a virtual reality film that helped them understand the emotions of children who come to Youth Bridge and how the agency helps them.

The 300 guests at Youth Bridge’s sold-out “Nox Stellata: The Starry, Starry Night” fundraiser on Oct. 19 experienced a new level of entertainment, setting it apart from the typical NWA fundraisers.

The setting for the event was a French-inspired, 16,000 square foot mansion at 2 Lacoste Court, in Pinnacle Country Club, on loan for the night from Signature Bank of Arkansas. Guests explored the palatial 3.53-acre estate, which includes a movie theater, wine cellar, solarium, library, “his and her” separate baths and closets, as well as a pool set among sculpted French gardens.

Nancy Hairston, director of advancement for Youth Bridge, said the event was loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Masque of the Red Death.” In that story, a prince throws a party in his castle for his friends to entertain them and help them escape a plague that is taking over the city.

“The plague that we’re trying to avoid is boring galas,” Hairston said.

In the short story there were seven different rooms of color that were part of the entertainment; and so the fundraiser also featured seven themed rooms, each associated with a different color. The rooms featured different activities, such as craft beer tasting, bourbon tasting, and a cigar lounge. Guests also enjoyed tasting savory and sweet bites in many of the rooms.

“In the Edgar Allen Poe version, the last rooms were the rooms of red and black, representing the people succumbing to the plague. In our red and black, our people don’t succumb to boring galas. Ours represents life and re-birth, so it’s like a parallel story,” Hairston said.

(from left to right) Cameron Smith and his wife, Monica, were co-chairs of the event. Sam’s Club CEO, John Furner and his wife, Brandy, were the hosts.

Art was also played a big part in the evening’s entertainment with artists on-site, creating works of art, including body painting, a mural, and airbrush painting.

In the movie theater, guests put on virtual reality headsets to watch a film that helped them understand and experience the emotions Youth Bridge clients feel. It was produced by virtual reality specialist, Freelance Society, who filmed clients talking about issues they face in life and the work Youth Bridge does to help them, Hairston said.

Youth Bridge is a non-profit agency serving a nine county area in northern Arkansas. Each year the organization helps more than 2,500 children, ages 9 to 18, and their families in the areas of abuse, neglect, addictions, homelessness, mental health and behavioral problems. Services include providing immediate safe haven, individualized treatment plans, aftercare, prevention programs and transitional living.

“Our goal is that when they leave the program, they’ve got the tools, the resources, and they turn their lives around because they know that there’s a different way of living,” Hairston said.

Hairston hoped to raise $100,000 from the event. The money will go to fund the Children’s Campus and the Legacy Fund. The Children’s Campus is a multi-purpose facility that provides group home, substance abuse treatment and emergency services for children, ages 12-18. The Legacy Fund assists families who may not be able to afford mental health counseling for their children because insurance premiums or out-of-pocket expenses may be too high.

Body art and live artists creating on site were on display at the event.

More than that, Hairston said, she hopes the event will raise awareness in the community about issues children face and that the awareness will translate into more financial support for Youth Bridge in the future.

“We’re trying to raise as much awareness and money and advocacy as we possibly can,” she said.

John Furner, CEO of Sam’s Club, and his wife, Brandy, served as hosts for the evening. In brief remarks to kick off the event, Furner said his first connection to Youth Bridge was about 10 years ago, as a part of a band that played at a fundraiser for Youth Bridge at The Amp, then located in the parking lot of the Northwest Arkansas mall. Cameron Smith and his wife, Monica, also served as event hosts. Cameron is founder of executive search firm Cameron Smith & Associates.

Furner said organizations like Youth Bridge make NWA a great place to live.

“Years ago it was tough, at times to get people to relocate to NWA … and you had to talk them into it,” Furner said.

He told of a recent conversation he had with the president of a large CPG company.

“I said, ‘what’s it like getting people to move to NWA?’” Furner reminisced. “’He said, ‘Well, it’s interesting, typically we get people here but the problem isn’t getting them here, the problem is getting them out of here. ‘Cause we get people here and when it’s time to move them out, they quit. They leave our company and they go to work for someone else because it’s such a great area.’”

“We should be proud of this community that we’ve put together and we’ve done it all together,” Furner said. “We (at Sam’s Club) are firmly committed to doing what we can to make NWA a better place to live, a better place to work and a better place to raise a family.”

Sponsors for the evening included Sam’s Club, Signature Bank, Portfolio Luxury Real Estates, Unilever and Arvest.