GRAVETTE -- The Bright Futures organization celebrated five years in Gravette with a fall breakfast Thursday morning, Oct. 28, at the Civic Center. Breakfast was served at 7:30 a.m., with presentations about the Bright Futures program held from 8 to 9 a.m. Tables were decorated with vases of flowers and signs with motivational words made by Brandi Brown's art students at Glenn Duffy Elementary School.
Many individuals and groups came out to help celebrate Bright Futures' accomplishments, including representatives of churches and organizations which partner with Bright Futures in their mission of making sure all students in the Gravette school system have their basic needs met. Heather Finley, president of Bright Futures, greeted everyone and thanked them for coming.
Maribel Childress, superintendent of Gravette schools, welcomed all in attendance and gave a brief overview of the various programs and initiatives of the Bright Futures group. She mentioned that food insecurity is a big problem in the area and said that almost 50% of the students in Gravette schools are eligible for free or reduced lunches.
Three Bright Futures advisory board members, representatives of three groups, outlined the work of their specific programs.
Haidee Larsen told about the Angel Tree program, which was started at Ozarks Community
Hospital. It has now expanded to include several locations where people can go, choose an "angel" and select gifts for the child whose name is on that card. Angels will be placed on the Angel Trees on Friday, Nov. 19, and gifts should be purchased and submitted in time for families to pick them up by Tuesday, Dec. 14.
Lisa Singleton told about the history of the backpack program in which backpacks are filled with food items for students to take home during Christmas break and spring break to make sure they have food at home during the extended vacations. She said $16,373 had been spent on backpacks and contents in the five years Bright Future has existed and an estimated 1,879 students have been served during that time.
Kelly Hankins, director of academic services at Gravette schools, spoke of the needs of local students. She explained that it is difficult for a child to learn if he is having to worry about whether he will have food for the next meal. She also spoke about the need for warm clothing with cold weather approaching. She said coats were often presented to children around Christmas time, but it gets cold before Christmas and there is a need for them before the holiday season. A Give Warmth program has been started and clothing pantries at the schools contain coats that children can pick up whenever they are needed. She said there is also a need for warm socks and underwear.
Finley asked all members of the advisory board to stand and be recognized. She explained that they were representatives of community groups, faith-based groups, human services personnel and school personnel.
Finley then introduced Richard Page, guest speaker for the breakfast. Page is a former school superintendent at Gravette, now retired, who spent 42 years in the education field, 14 of those as a teacher. He was instrumental in helping organize the first Bright Futures in Gravette during his tenure at Gravette schools. He praised the Bright Futures group because "everything you do goes directly to the students." There are no administrative costs taken out of their donations. He said every town needed Bright Futures. He told about the beginnings of the Bright Futures organization. It was started in Joplin, Mo., where approximately 1/3 of the students who started school dropped out before graduation and their interest in academics was low. The poverty rate among students' families was high and founder C.J. Huff saw a need and established Bright Futures to meet it.
Page said Bright Futures members provide many valuable services for students and their families and help meet the goal of keeping all students in school. He read a letter from a former student who received help from Bright Futures and noted that these students remember the group and the help they have received. He related some statistics taken from a student poll to show the need for certain services, including the fact that 39.7% of students had a family member with a severe alcohol or drug problem and 12.9% of students had changed homes seven or more times during their school years.
He praised Bright Futures particularly for the fact that it doesn't wait to meet a need. "It's immediate," he said, concluding by thanking the group for its services to children and their families and for "giving of your time, your talents and your treasures" to help others.
Finley announced that the Gravette Bright Futures program has been chosen by the Arkansas School Board Association as the model for a community engagement program for the entire state and she will be making a presentation about the local program at Little Rock in December.
She then presented award plaques to Haidee Larsen as the Bright Futures Volunteer of the Year and Ozarks Community Hospital as the Bright Futures Partner of the Year. She said Larsen has stepped up to meet needs in several areas, not just in Bright Futures. She is the co-founder of Outreach 58:10 food pantry in Sulphur Springs. Amanda Gittlein and administrator Scott Taylor accepted the award for Ozarks Community Hospital.
Finley encouraged all present to fill out surveys on the tables outlining ways they would be willing to help Bright Futures in its mission. She said the organization will continue to work to take community resources and partner with the schools to meet the needs of all students. She said each school building has a site council and there are openings for council members, so she urged everyone to get involved. She said Bright Futures members intend to uphold the organization's mission which begins, "We believe in the inherent worth of every child" and, after outlining each part of the mission statement, she concluded, "It's amazing to think about what this community has done and will do to serve children."