Hot Springs woman finds a sweet way to help those in need

By Wayne Bryan Published February 2, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Lynn Blankenship of Hot Springs is not a native of the city. However, she found a calling there and now serves as administrator of the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic, located on Arbor Street. Blankenship oversees the main fundraiser for the clinic, the annual Chocolate Festival, which will be held today.

Lynn Blankenship came to Hot Springs looking for a place to retire and relax. Like many others who come to the Spa City, she found a whole new life that included going back to work again.

As administrator of the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic on Arbor Street, Blankenship carries a lot of responsibility, helping coordinate free health, vision and dental care, along with a pharmacy for those in the community who cannot afford treatment, don’t have insurance and are in need.

“By the time they get to us, many of the patients have been pretty beat up by the world,” Blankenship said. “They do not understand insurance.”

She said that even with the start of insurance provided by the Affordable Care Act, there will be those people who remain “in the hole of the doughnut of medical care.”

“Our patients will change if the care plans are successful, but we are not sure what that change will be,” Blankenship said. “But we will be here as long as our patients need us, even if it is just as an advocate.”

The clinic has been helping its patients sign up for health care plans under the new law.

While the job is complex and vital to so many, today will be the sweetest day of the year for Blankenship and the volunteers and doctors who give their time and skills to the clinic’s patients.

The 10th annual Chocolate Festival, to benefit the clinic, will be held from 1-3 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Hot Springs, near the Hot Springs Convention Center.

“It is a gathering of people brought together by chocolate with a theme of ‘Eat chocolate for charity,’” Blankenship said.

For the price of admission, people will be given a plate and served a variety of chocolate creations from some of the best restaurants and chocolatiers in town. There will also be hand-crafted sweets from local organizations that want to help the community and also like to work with chocolate.

“Our chocolate festival is our largest fundraiser of the year,” Blankenship said. “Last year we raised $40,000 from the festival. We had 900 people come in, and we had to turn some people away.”

The clinic is also aided by two other events: a golf tournament in the fall, and a concert by Louis Menendez, a concert pianist who was once a client of the clinic.

A busy New York musician and concert producer, Menendez moved to Hot Springs after he had a heart attack. While life in Hot Springs was a break from his life in New York, his income as a self-employed musician made him unable to afford his medications. Some of the medications Menendez had to take cost as much as $15 per pill. At the clinic, he was able to get the medicine for $5 a month, he said in a 2011 interview.

Today’s chocolate festival is expected to be the largest one yet, Blankenship said. Organizers expect around 20 vendors to hand out chocolates to the ticket holders during the event.

“There are four prizes given out at the festival,” she said. “One is for the best-tasting chocolate, and another is for the best presentation, as decided by our panel of judges. There are also the choice awards, voted on by the people who attend, and the vendors also choose the best chocolates among themselves.”

While the guests are eating chocolates, Blankenship and the clinic volunteers want the attendees to visit and bid in the silent auction with items that have been donated by the community.

There will also be live music.

Ann Felsted, one of the longtime volunteers at the clinic and a member of the board of directors, said the Chocolate

Festival is a partnership of need and a company looking for a cause.

“The board was exploring ideas for a fundraiser that could be open to the entire family,” she said. “We didn’t want another black-tie event, and the Embassy Suites people came to us.”

Felsted said the hotel had just opened in Hot Springs, and management was looking for a community event to sponsor.

“That first year, I think we had 1,000 pieces of chocolate, and we let people take as many as they wanted. We found out people were getting lots to take home for their Super Bowl parties,” she said. “Now the vendors hand them out, and each vendor has to bring 1,000 pieces.”

The items for the first silent auction fit on one display table, Felsted said, but now the items take up the entire atrium of the hotel.

All the sweets and auction items are there to help the clients of the clinic receive their medicines and treatments. Blankenship said many of the patients have chronic illnesses and are treated by the volunteer doctors.

The night clinic is a place for walk-in patients to be assessed and receive care or be scheduled to see a doctor in the day clinic.

Blankenship recalled one patient who first came to the night clinic about six months ago.

“Let’s call him Paul,” she said. “He came in one night, and he had mental-health issues, and we had to take care of him immediately because Paul reacted to the crowd of people by having a panic attack.”

He was seen by one of the day-clinic doctors, who had volunteered for the night, and Paul received his first treatments then, Blankenship said.

“With medication and counseling, he was able to go out among people again,” she said. “In three months, he was well enough to go to Little Rock and stay with family members for a while.”

Blankenship said Paul is always showing his gratitude to the clinic volunteers by bringing homemade pies and cakes.

“He can look you in the eyes now,” she said. “That is not much to you and me, but it is a tremendous step to getting better for him.”

Blankenship came to Hot Springs to relax. A resident of Oklahoma City, she had retired from 30 years in banking. Toward the end of her first career, she was a senior vice president in charge of small-business loans, including loans for the medical community.

“I was dating a man in Little Rock, and I got a house on the lake in Hot Springs for weekend trips in 2009,” she said.

Soon Blankenship sold her home in Oklahoma and moved to Hot Springs permanently. She married the man she was dating, and the couple now live in the lake home.

Once she became a resident of the Spa City, Blankenship began to look for places to volunteer.

“A neighbor told me about the clinic, and I went looking to volunteer and became the financial manager,” she said.

Blankenship became the administrator of the clinic in September 2011.

She said working with a fun event like the Chocolate Festival is one of the perks of her job, although she said she seldom gets to actually eat a piece of chocolate at the show.

“The leftovers are another matter,” she said.

However, she said, the work at the clinic has its own reward.

“People tell me all the time that they would not be alive without the clinic,” Blankenship said.

That is the sweetest thing of all.

The Chocolate Festival for the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic begins at 1 p.m. today. Tickets are $20 at the door.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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