It was a sellout crowd for the first Child Abuse Awareness and Prevent Banquet by the Open Arms Shelter. The Shelter, located in Lonoke, provides temporary and long-term emergency housing for victims of abuse and neglect.
The banquet, held at Cabot Junior High School North, marked April as Child Abuse and Awareness Month.
Keynote speaker was Gov. Mike Beebe; introduced with remarks by KARK News co-anchor Bob Clausen.
Sondra Burnett performed the song, “Temporary Home” as a tribute to the Shelter.
In his remarks, Beebe called on community support for the Shelter.
“I never was abused, and I never was neglected. But I grew up in an Ozzie and Harriet age … I had a wonderful mother.
She had me as a teenager. I never had a dad, but I had a bunch of step dads,” Beebe recalled.
Because his mother had borne him as a teenager, she didn’t finish high school, and her lack of education limited her opportunities, he said.
“So she spent her whole life waiting on tables … So she knew how important education is,” Beebe said.
Beyond her work, she made sure he went to school, Beebe said. “It was a simpler, gentler time … We didn’t have drugs, guns and knives.
“Worst thing that was going to happen to you was you would get in a fistfight or get caught drinking beer or something,” he said.
“Kids today have it much harder, and they don’t always have the situation where the family is going to come wrap their arms around them,” Beebe said.
Drugs, guns and knives are at school, and there are temptations that are much worse than that faced in the 1960s, Beebe said.
What Open Arms Shelter provides is needed more now than ever before, Beebe said.
“Everything that we can do to change that child, make that child whole, is not only good for the child, it is good for our future,” Beebe said.
The lives of many abused and neglected children have been changed for the better through Open Arms Shelter, Beebe said. Because of that, the Shelter is worthy of all the support everyone can give it, he said.
Beebe noted from his proclamation recognizing the work of Open Arms Shelter that in 2012 there had been founded abuse and neglect cases in Arkansas. “So, we have a problem,” he said.
OAS executive director Nancy Hamlin told about the history of Open Arms Shelter, and purpose it serves.
Open Arms has been open 26 years, largely led by the work of former director Susan Bransford.
Open Arms has been open since 1986 and has been emergency safe housing for more than 2,400 children.
Both temporary and long-term care and housing is available to victims of abuse and neglect up to 18 years old.
Until the recent addition of the new 7,000 square-foot wing the Shelter was limited to 12 children for a maximum of 45 days. But with the new wing, the Shelter can help up to 30 children.
Open Arms is one of the few shelters in Arkansas that will accept children younger than 8 years old, teenage mothers with their children and large groups of siblings. While children from all over the state are brought to the Shelter, most are from central Arkansas,” he said.
However, the shelter has found itself short of funds with cutbacks in state funds. The Arkansas Department of Health has contracted for only three of the 12 beds in the new wing,” he said.
However, efforts are under way to having all 12 beds approved for use. The Shelter also mentors teenagers to teach them independent living skills such as how to establish a household budget, pay bills and apply for grants and scholarships for education.
The Open Arms Website notes that children come from “every imaginable type of crisis,” arriving with broken limbs, bruises, and cuts from abuse.