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story.lead_photo.caption Naomi Bratton shows some of the items that HELP — Housing, Education and Life-Skills Program — has collected for the homeless in Cabot, Austin and Ward. HELP’s upcoming fundraiser, Chocolate HELPs, will assist the nonprofit in purchasing a building for a transitional living facility for the homeless and those at risk of being homeless.

Editor's Note: Organizers have announced the Chocolate HELPs event has been postponed until March 5 due to area flooding.

CABOT — February is often one of the coldest months, and the volatile weather can mean dangerous situations for the homeless. Currently, the homeless have very few options for help in Cabot, Austin and Ward, and a group of concerned citizens has set to work to change that.

“There is a group of like-minded individuals in the Cabot, Ward and Austin area, and we formed a coalition and started asking people if they were interested in joining,” said Naomi Bratton, one of the founding members of HELP. “That was in June 2017.”

HELP — or Housing, Education and Life-Skills Program — is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is working to help the homeless in the Cabot, Ward and Austin area. The ultimate goal, Bratton said, is to open a transitional living facility for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

On Feb. 11, HELP will hold the second annual Chocolate HELPs event to raise money for the nonprofit. From 6-8 p.m. at the Cabot National Guard Armory, local businesses will share their chocolate offerings with the crowd. Tickets for the event are $5 and include all the chocolate items from businesses.

“Last year, we had chocolate chili, chocolate fountains, chocolate pretzels, petits fours, chocolate-covered popcorn, hot chocolate, chocolate protein shakes, gourmet cupcakes, cake pops, chocolate-chip cookies, candy bars, brownies,” Bratton said. “It’s a great, great time.”

There will also be door prizes throughout the evening, and visitors will have an opportunity to purchase additional tickets for more chances to win.

“It’s community outreach, as well as a fundraiser,” Bratton said of the event. “We want them to know who we are. We want to help people get off the streets and break the cycle of poverty.”

All the money raised at Chocolate HELPs will go toward the mission of HELP. Bratton said the nonprofit’s next step is to purchase a building to house HELP’s planned transitional facility.

“With our program, it’s housing for someone who is homeless or at risk for homelessness,” Bratton said. “The education part of the program will be supportive services. We want to set up classes for people to get their GED if they don’t have it. The life-skills part comes in where we help them write resumes and get them in touch with local businesses.”

Another founder of HELP, Allen Miller, has been helping the homeless and at-risk population for years through CATCH — Central Arkansas Team Care for the Homeless. Miller said his work with CATCH and through veterans organizations has helped highlight the reality of homelessness in the Cabot area.

“I’ve been with CATCH for 15 years,” he said. “During this time, I’ve observed numerous homeless people. Being with CATCH, there’s nothing to help the homeless north of North Little Rock. … I started the HELP program as a concerned citizen.”

Miller said he took on the idea of helping the homeless in his community 12 to 13 years ago and is now an adviser to the board of HELP.

“You come to Cabot any day, and you’ll see people on the street corners and in parking lots with signs. It’s a need, but there’s nothing for them,” he said. “Most of the homeless in this area don’t want to go to North Little Rock or Little Rock for help.”

Bratton said that keeping families in their own cities while they get back on their feet is important, especially if there are children involved.

Bratton, whose degree is in elementary education, said it can be especially detrimental to a child’s development to be uprooted several times while the family gets the help it needs. Currently, a family that is facing homelessness with no other options has to go several cities south to get help. This means the kids have to be taken out of their schools and away from their friends. Then when the parents get in a better position and decide to move back to Cabot, the children are uprooted again.

“What we’re trying to do is not only help those people who are homeless, but prevent that type of uprooting situation,” she said.

For more information on HELP or the Chocolate HELPs event, visit the Housing, Education & Life-skills Program Facebook page or email help@helpcares.org.

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