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GRAVETTE -- Heather Finley, president of the Gravette Bright Futures chapter, was the guest speaker at the regular meeting of the Gravette Lions Club Tuesday, Feb. 16. She told the Lions that Bright Futures was started in Joplin, Mo., by a school superintendent who wanted to meet the needs of students in his district.

Richard Page, then school superintendent, and the late John Edwards, a school board member, brought the program to Gravette five years ago in August when they saw similar needs here. Bright Future has grown to about 70 chapters throughout the United States and the national organization, still headquartered in Joplin, provides support for each one.

There are 13 Bright Futures advisory board members, Finley said, and they include community members, members of churches and human services groups, businessmen, parents and school staff members. She explained that Bright Futures' goal is to make sure all the students' basic needs, food, water, clothing and shelter, are met and that, when a need is seen, it is met within 24 hours of when it is first identified.

Several needs were outlined in Finley's talk. There has been an increase of grandparents raising children, she said, and noted that about 50% of students in the Gravette district are eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches. She related a few specific cases of Bright Futures' work including installing a heating system for a family whose thank you note expressed appreciation that the group had "warmed our bodies and warmed our hearts." Bad weather conditions over the Valentine's Day weekend made it difficult for some families to obtain food so police chief Chuck Skaggs, some police officers and school counselors had delivered food to their households on Monday and a load of propane was delivered to a family who needed it on Saturday.

School bus drivers, school counselors and school nurses help Bright Futures identify children with needs. A clothing closet has been set up in the old agriculture building where clothing and shoes can be obtained. School nurses keep lice kits on hand to treat students with head lice and provisions have been made to treat households with bedbugs. This need was first realized when a family received donated furniture which contained bedbugs.

Finley said she has good cooperation from the community. She partners with Care and Share and often gets supplies there. Grocery stores sometimes donate food and she also obtains needed food items from the food pantry in Sulphur Springs. Efforts have recently been made to enlist the support of the homeschool community. She also hopes to be able to supply families with budgeting advice, help with writing resumes and other services which will improve a household's financial health but said many such plans had to be put on hold due to the covid-19 shutdown.

Finley explained that there are many single parents or households where both parents are working and their children need mentors. Male mentors are especially needed. Each school has its own Bright Futures site council, she said, which serves as a miniature board and volunteers are needed to serve on these boards. Volunteers are also needed to deliver supplies to families and to help fill backpacks with food. Bright Futures each year fills about 150 of the food packs to send home with youngsters during Christmas vacation and spring break.

Members will meet at the First Christian Church at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 9, to fill backpacks for spring break and Finley suggested this might be an opportunity for Lions Club members to volunteer. Regular meetings of Bright Futures are held at the church at 11:15 a.m. the second Tuesday of each month and Finley invited all who are interested to attend.

In the business meeting following Finley's talk, club members discussed their upcoming food drive. In cooperation with the Gravette Public Library, the club has started a food collection drive the first week of every other month. Collection boxes will be placed at the library and other locations for the next drive, which is scheduled for March 1-7.

Past district governor Myrna McGee, of Bella Vista, another guest at the meeting, announced Sue Rice as the club's Melvin Jones Fellowship recipient. Club members made plans to meet at the Billy V. Hall Senior Activity Center at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 23, to present Rice's award.

Dr. Nancy Jones will be the guest speaker for the next regular meeting of the club, Tuesday, March 2, at 12 noon. She will speak about the Arkansas Children's Hospital. Guests are always welcome. Anyone interested in attending may call Jeff Davis, 479-787-1068, to get the Zoom link for the meeting.

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