Eat Dessert First

Silly fun for a serious cause

Committed to Freedom founder Sallie Culbreth, left, and co-director Anne Quinn will have the Eat Dessert First party to celebrate the work of Committed to Freedom on Friday at Low Key Arts in Hot Springs.

There is a silly event planned for Friday in Hot Springs. That’s not unusual for the Spa City, but in this case, there is a serious reason behind it.

Committed to Freedom, an organization based in the Spa City, is celebrating 11 years of helping adults who are still dealing with the abuse they endured as children.

The evening at Low Key Arts, a dark-teal building with a bright-red door on Arbor Street just off Central Avenue, is planned as a joyful event for the triumph of human spirit, by getting more than a little silly.

“Both adults and children have the right to reclaim a happy childhood,” said Ann Quinn, co-director of Committed to Freedom Abuse Recovery Solutions. “Eat Dessert First is about celebrating that feeling of living outside the darkness and enjoying life.”

The event is also designed to raise funds for the nonprofit organization and to let people know help is available for those who “carry the invisible scars” of abuse.

But of those serious endeavors on Friday night will feature people robed in capes and outrageous costumes, and even wearing hand puppets.

“It is so childlike to want to eat dessert first,” Quinn said. “Cupcakes from Ambrosia Bakery and Fat Bottom Girls Cupcakes in Hot Springs will be served first, followed by tacos from Tacos Mi Casita. There will be a variety show and even a movie we made.”

“The night has a theme of a campy science-fiction movie,” Committed to Freedom founder Sallie Culbreth said. She was dressed as the Queen of the Universe, a character in the low-budget, sci-fi short Beyond the Lunar Crater that the two women and their friends made featuring hand puppets.

“The film is only nine minutes long, but the stop-action video seemed to take forever,” she said. “See what using the mouse to edit did to my hand?”

Culbreth laughed, showing a craw with long, pointed fingernails she called “Martian fingernails,” plastic fingertips placed on her hand as part of her costume.

“We have to be committed to dress and act this silly,” she said.

But there was no laughing when Culbreth told the story of the creation of Committed to Freedom.

“I was abused, and in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a lack of recovery services for the adults,” she said. “My husband runs Teen Challenge in Hot Springs, and working with him, I found there was really nothing for adult males who had been abused as children. I started looking for spiritual tools to help people move beyond abuse and sexual trauma.”

Quinn, who is Culbreth’s daughter, said she, too, was abused by a family friend and has been raped.

“You can see that our passion for this cause is very personal,” Culbreth said.

Long after the abuse ends, the effects

remain, she said. Survivors feel stalked and unsafe.

“There is a lot of tension, and the tools we have developed are a pressure valve for releasing that tension and really moving on,” Culbreth said.

While the group’s work is centered in Hot Springs, Culbreth and Quinn use the Internet and meetings all over the country to relate their message internationally.

“We focus on those who have been sexually abused as a child and help with their recovery,” Quinn said. “We are now turning to a broader audience. We want to help where we see sexual trauma and rape being used as a weapon of war, as in Africa, and we want to start a treatment program for those who have been sexually assaulted in the military.”

Later this year, the team will visit the maximum-security unit at the Tucker Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction.

“We will modify our work for the population,” Culbreth said. “We will try to teach strategic tools for the men to have a sanctuary of empowerment in a place were they have almost no control.”

However, both women said the Eat Dessert First event will “showcase life beyond the bad stuff.”

“This is about celebrating the fun of childhood,” said Quinn, who was wearing a silver dress, leggings and a green cape. “That is why you eat dessert first and have these costumes.”

She said that as a nonprofit organization, Committed to Freedom is funded by donations.

“Our donor base includes many of our former clients,” Quinn said. “They want what was given to them to be available in the future.”

Friday’s event has several company sponsors and is offering a prize-packed silent auction.

“You know this is a good cause to get us to dress this way and be seen in public, ” Culbreth said.

For more information about about Committed to Freedom and Friday’s Eat Dessert First, call (501) 545-0791.