Coatses will take a seat for Festival of Chairs

By Tammy Keith Originally Published September 6, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 6, 2012 at 4:13 p.m.
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Tammy Keith / River Valley & Ozark Edition

Mike and Tonya Coats of Conway are honorary chairman and chairwoman of the Friends of Court-Appointed Special Advocates’ 11th annual Festival of Chairs. The fundraiser, set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Centennial Valley Event Center, includes a raffle of a diamond ring, as well as silent and live auctions of chairs decorated by local artists, along with other items. The deadline is Sept. 13 for artists to donate a decorated chair to the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, 707 Parkway in downtown Conway. Mike has been involved with CASA since 2000, and Tonya started volunteering with the fundraiser in 2005.

— Mike and Tonya Coats of Conway will see the 11th annual CASA Festival of Chairs from a different side this year.

The restaurants in which they are partners, first Mike’s Place and, later, Michelangelo’s, have donated food to the event for the past several years.

“I was usually bringing food back and forth,” Mike said.

He never got to sit down and enjoy the festivities, though.

This year the couple are honorary co-chairs for the event, which will be at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Centennial Valley Event Center.

“We were tremendously flattered and honored,” he said.

The event benefits the Children’s Advocacy Alliance of North Central Arkansas, a nonprofit that serves Faulkner, Van Buren, Searcy, Pope and Conway counties. The alliance is a partnership between the Court Appointed Special Advocates of the 20th Judicial District and the Central Arkansas Children’s Advocacy Center. The programs work together to provide guidance, treatment and support for child victims of abuse and neglect, from the initial investigation of abuse to the children’s placement in a safe, permanent home.

A highlight of the fundraiser is the auction of chairs that local artists have refurbished by painting or decorating in some way, in addition to other auction items.

Event co-chairwoman Annabeth Jackson said anyone can decorate a chair for the auction, and the deadline is Sept. 13.

“We prefer it to be a chair, but it can really be anything. A lady contacted me today and is going to make a sofa table,” Jackson said.

The chairs should be taken to the Children’s Advocacy Alliance office in downtown Conway, 707 Parkway Ave.

She said other auction items include a Razorback-themed golf cart.

“I’ve seen pictures of it; it’s beautiful,” she said. “People in Conway are so generous. I’ve been amazed at things that have been donated. People have big hearts.”

Raffle tickets for a $15,000 diamond ring donated by Fletcher Smith’s Jewelers in Conway are being sold for $50 each.

Table sponsorships are available, too.

Jackson said more than $100,000 was raised last year at the event, and 500 people are expected to attend this year.

A substitute teacher in the Conway School District, Tonya said she started volunteering with the Festival of Chairs after she graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in 2005. She serves the food and coordinates the details.

“I don’t have kids of my own. That’s another reason CASA is so special to me,” she said. “This is the way I reach out to children.”

“Her passion stirs me,” Mike said. “She tugs at my heartstrings.”

He said the need increases every year for advocates.

“It’s such a great group. They do such good work, and [the fundraiser] becomes such a social event for Conway,” Mike said.

He said people put aside their political differences and come together to support the cause.

Tickets to the Festival of Chairs are $50 in advance or $60 at the door.

For more information on becoming a sponsor or to purchase tickets, call (501) 328-3347, visit www.hopeandjustice.org, or go to the alliance office on Parkway.

“Every person who shows up that night gives a child hope that’s in need of it,” Tonya said.

And, Mike said, “We’re doing the food like we always do. … We always bring our best.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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