Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

NEIGHBORS >> Open Arms Shelter in Lonoke receives $28,000 gift from Dillard’s department store.

By SARA GREENE
Leader staff writer

Lonoke’s Open Arms Shelter for abused and neglected children received one of their largest gifts ever, $27,000 from Dillard’s in McCain Mall.

“This donation is the result of our furnishing vendors and merchandising office working together to help Open Arms,” said Bob Seibert, store manager for Dillard’s in McCain Mall.
“But it’s not about the store, it’s about Open Arms.”

The money will be used for debt reduction and expenses at the shelter according to Susan Bransford, executive director of Open Arms Shelter. She has been with Open Arms Shelter since it began in 1986.
“This is one of the largest donations we’ve had,” Bransford said.

During an Open Arms fundraiser in July, Dillard’s of McCain Mall furnished The Idea House, one of 26 homes showcased during the Cabot Avenue of Dreams Home Showcase.

The home showcase, organized by Open Arms Shelter board member Rhonda House, raised more than $18,000 for the shelter through ticket sales and donations.

Open Arms Shelter began in October 1985 when a group of concerned citizens met to address the growing problem of child abuse and neglect in central Arkansas.

This group, made up of law enforcement officials, judges, school counselors and human service professionals, became known as the Lonoke County Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect. After conducting a survey, the task force found that the greatest need was a shelter for young victims of abuse and neglect because Lonoke County had only a few foster homes. Shelters in the state for children were consistently full and often had waiting lists.

On September 15, 1986, the first Open Arms Shelter opened at 203 East Fourth St. in Lonoke in a house donated by former Lonoke County Judge Dude Spence.

Open Arms Shelter began as a group foster home with eight beds, a budget of $25,000 and one full time set of house parents. Since then, the facility has moved twice. Open Arms Shelter now has a clean and spacious 12 facility, a budget of $225,000 and a full time staff of six.

“Right now Lonoke County only has one foster home accepting children,” Bransford said. “We’re currently housing nine children so we’re almost full.”

She said Open Arms has been blessed with volunteers donating their time as well as money.
“We have volunteers to read and do crafts, sometimes we have Sunday school classes that wash our windows,” Bransford said.

In the nearly 20 years since it started, Open Arms Shelter has provided emergency shelter to over 1,400 victims of abuse and neglect between the ages of birth and 18.
It provides the children a safe place to stay while awaiting placement in foster homes, treatment facilities or with relatives.

Open Arms Shelter is one of the few emergency shelters in the state that will take children under 8, teenage mothers with their children and large sibling groups.

Children can stay for a maximum of 45 days at Open Arms. In addition to a room, three meals a day, and around the clock supervision, the children receive affection and guidance on dealing with life’s difficulties.
The children at the shelter have come from every imaginable type of crisis including neglectful situations.
Some have arrived with broken arms and legs from abuse. Other children are so hungry from neglect they hide food. Some children arrive in shock from being the victim of a custodial kidnapping or witnessing a drug bust.
At Open Arms these children have a clean, spacious environment to recuperate.
For more information about Open Arms Shelter please call (501) 676-6166.