FORT SMITH -- An Illinois company delivered Christmas to the Community Rescue Mission via 18-wheeler recently. Inside the truck were enough planks of synthetic ice to create a 50-by-6-foot ice rink.
Fees skaters pay to use the rink will benefit the rescue mission.
It's the second year the faith-based nonprofit group has hosted the holiday fundraiser, which moved this year to Cisterna Park in downtown Fort Smith. The rink will open Friday and be in business through Jan. 1, thanks to sponsorships by First National Bank of Fort Smith, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, ArcBest, Littlefield Oil, the Central Business Improvement District and the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Department. All proceeds from the ice rink go back into "safe shelter, meals and needed support to help people get back on their feet as quickly as possible," as the organization describes its work.
The Community Rescue Mission, a 41-year-old nonprofit group, receives no funding from government entities or the United Way. In 2021, the group housed 484 people, 269 of them children, on its campus, said Executive Director Heather Sanders. Its 15 apartments can accommodate up to 70 people at a time.
"We do take single dads with children, single moms with children and/or dual- spouse married families with children," Sanders said. "We also provided food boxes and case management to over 50 prior residents during 2021."
The circumstances that bring someone to Community Rescue Mission are very rarely happy ones. In general, the people who move into the mission's single-family apartments have lost a battle with substance abuse, lost a job, lost a spouse, lost their home or simply have nowhere else to go. It's Sanders' goal to give them back hope and direction, along with full stomachs and a sense of community.
To that end, dorm-style housing has been remodeled to increase single-family apartments from 10 to 15, and Sanders said the next phase "is to hopefully build three duplexes for families to move from CRM into their own home for at least a year."
It hasn't been easy. The mission was without its kitchen during the remodeling, and individual volunteers, corporate entities and restaurants created a "meal train" to bring dinner to those in need, while other businesses and individuals donated sack lunches and microwavable food. But even with the main building back open and a kitchen available, "we are still always looking for groups to come in and serve dinner," Sanders said.
Those who want to help can also "volunteer, donate in-kind food, hygiene products, cleaning products, clothing, shoes and houseware items," she added. And "we are always needing groups to provide a craft or game night, help to work in our warehouse or answer phones."
Part of the fun of the ice rink, Sanders said, is that recipients of Community Rescue Mission's assistance and friends of the organization can give back by volunteering there.
"It's a blessing to have a family-friendly activity that not only supports CRM, but allows families to have fun and get out and try something new," she said. "We are blessed to be able to open the rink for a special day over the holidays to allow as many kids the opportunity to try something new through some of our partnerships with organizations throughout our city."
Sanders came to Community Rescue Mission from the Downtown Business Association, but she learned about community as a military wife who had to get a new job and create a new home every three years. With experience in management and "a heart for giving back," she knew when the nonprofit asked her if she was interested, she wanted to take the job.
"Imagine how you would feel if you did not know where you would lay your head tonight nor from where your next meal would come," the website states. "Multiply those concerns several times over if you have children in tow. Whatever the circumstance, we are here to instill hope and empower lives while offering Christ-like hospitality and care."
Becca Martin-Brown is features editor for the River Valley Democrat-Gazette. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fort Smith ice rink
WHEN: Friday through Jan. 1. Hours are 2-6 p.m. opening day, 1-8 p.m. Saturday and 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Visit fortsmithiceskating.com for the rest of the schedule.
WHERE: 1001 Garrison Ave. in Fort Smith
COST: $5-$10 per hour, includes skates
INFO: 782-1443 or www.fscrm.org
FYI: Volunteers can sign up on the website to help with the ice rink. The ice rink will also be available for corporate, church or large event rentals.