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story.lead_photo.caption Ashley Fitzhugh Fort Smith Children's Emergency Shelter Director of Development

Tell us about your organization:

• Mission: The Fort Smith Children's Emergency Shelter provides shelter and care, in a safe and structured home-like environment, to area children ages 6-17, children who have been removed from their homes by the Department of Human Services due to neglect and/or abuse. In addition, the CES has expanded its mission to include an independent living housing program, Get REAL 24, for foster youth ages 18 and older who have "aged-out" of foster care.

Havana Nights

Who: Children’s Emergency Shelter

What: Cuban theme, raffle, live music, Cuban cuisine, hand-rolled cigars, bourbon tasting, live and silent auctions

When: 6:30-11:30 p.m. May 31

Where: Fort Smith Riverfront Park and Amphitheater

Tickets: $125, $650 for a table for four or $1,300 for a table for eight

Information: (479) 783-0018 or childrensemergencyshelter.org

• Services provided: Shelter, care, life skills, food, clothing and shoes and emotional support

• Service area: The CES serves children from all areas of Arkansas (primarily what DHS has defined as Area 2: Franklin, Sebastian, Crawford, Yell, Scott, Logan, Johnson counties).

• Average number of people served annually: 275

How is your organization's mission unique? Our mission is unique because we serve foster youth after their 18th birthday through our GetREAL24 program. GR24 provides foster youth who have "aged out" of care a place to live independently among their peers while gaining the life skills necessary to become successful, contributing members of society. It takes place on our campus, in a 24-unit apartment complex, and teaches the young adults how to manage money, prepare for job interviews, obtain college scholarships, get a driver's license and purchase a vehicle, plan menus and grocery shop, the importance of hygiene and health, and how to build relationships that will aid in their successful independence. Through a self-sufficiency plan, the program is customized to each individual youth's strengths and weaknesses, abilities, and short- and long-term goals.

Why do you work or volunteer for a nonprofit organization? Do you have a personal connection to the mission? If so, what is it? I became involved in the CES through the Junior League of Fort Smith, which founded the CES in the mid-1990s.

What have you learned on the job that you didn't expect? Before I worked at the CES I had no idea how big the foster care crisis actually was, including the level of neglect and abuse that foster care children endure prior to the removal from their homes. Sebastian County is unfortunately home to the largest percentage of foster youth in the entire state. ... It's easy to acknowledge a need but to stay in your "bubble"; it's another thing to actually work for and serve this invisible population of children and young adults who have been denied the opportunity to live their early years in the safety of their parents, which should be every child's birthright. These kids all just want to be loved and have the opportunity to just be kids. ... I am honored to play a small role in helping them create happy memories.

What challenges face your organization? New federal regulations are requiring that shelter organizations make changes to their operations. These changes require organizations to become accredited and work with other organizations to provide a higher level of care to the children that we serve.

What upcoming fundraisers and/or other events does your organization have planned? Havana Nights, May 31, Fort Smith Riverfront Park and Amphitheater;. Tickets online at childrensemergencyshelter.org/havana-nights-2019. Havana Nights is our largest fundraiser and raises about a third of the CES budget.

NAN Profiles on 05/12/2019

Print Headline: Personified

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