What could be better at this magical time of the year than children snuggling in Santa’s lap and sharing their Christmas dreams? Thanks to the Junior Auxiliary of Saline County, hundreds of children and parents can make this very special holiday memory with the 2016 Breakfast with Santa on December 3rd at the main fire station in Bryant. In addition to Santa Claus, Bryant firefighters are on hand to flip pancakes, while Chick-Fil-a and Starbucks serve some tasty treats of their own. The event, now on its 5th year, is free to the public with many in the community stopping by to have their picture made with Santa and enjoy a complementary breakfast. Donations of pop-top soups and ravioli-type pastas are collected to help with Junior Auxiliary’s Blessings in a Backpack program.
Junior Auxiliary of Saline County is part of the National Organization of Junior Auxiliaries, which is in its 75th year. The local chapter was formed in 1971 as Junior Auxiliary of Benton, but changed as the needs of our community grew and changed. According to Lauren Benson, President of Junior Auxiliary of Saline County, the group’s mission is focused on enhancing the lives of children through education, service and love. “We believe that caring for a child today makes an important difference, not just for today, but for the future. Our primary focus is to provide help to the children of Saline County through our service projects each year. We’ve created many community partnerships that allow us to do the most good through each project.”
Junior Auxiliary of Saline County is comprised strictly of volunteers and receives no state or federal funding to sustain these outreach projects for the children. The group counts on the support and generosity of the community to continue helping those in need. “Anything we spend on service projects must come from our own fundraising efforts. This January is one of three fundraisers our organization does each year. Money made will go directly towards funding our service projects for next year,” says Benson.
JA delivers backpacks full of food to children in need through the Boys and Girls Clubs. Each backpack has breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack item for each day the child is out of school for the holidays or spring break. In 2015-2016 JA received requests to fill 120 backpacks. In 2016-2017 the need has risen to 405.
The one-day workshop for preteen girls includes a keynote speaker (this year it was former state representative Ann Clemmer), an age-appropriate fashion show, a self-defense class and a panel discussion regarding social media, bullying and other societal issues.
Members make no-sew blankets for DHS foster children who have been removed from their homes, often with nothing more than what they are wearing.
Each year a scholarship is awarded to a student graduating high school in Saline County. This year two new scholarships have been added to include students pursuing a vocational education and a student who is entering graduate classes.
This project is the chapter’s most far reaching initiative. Through this project, a JA representative is “in” every public school in Saline County from K-12th grade. They work with school counselors, nurses, and principals to meet needs where other programs fall short. The group provides school supplies and clothing as well as medical supplies and bottled water for use by the school nurse.
The Queen of Hearts Ball is scheduled for January 28, from 7:00-11:00 p.m. at the Benton Event Center. The gala-style event will feature food from Gina’s Catering, live music from local band “Just Sayin”, casino gaming tables and a live and silent auction.
Last year’s event had a record turn-out and the chapter is hoping to exceed that this year. “We have several opportunities for the community to get involved. Anyone interested in sponsoring the ball or donating auction items can email firstname.lastname@example.org or Lauren.email@example.com for a sponsorship package. There are corporate tables of 10 available starting at $600, but we also need individuals to buy tickets.” Tickets to the event are $50 per person.
Saline County’s Junior Auxiliary chapter has received well-deserved recognition for their service to the community. Locally, the group received the Hometown Hero Award from the Bryant Boys & Girls Club for the Blessings in a Backpack program, and they were honored as Organization of the Year from the Bryant Chamber of Commerce due to their work in Bryant public schools and in the city of Bryant.
At the National Organization of Junior Auxiliaries education conference April 29-30 in Memphis, JA of Saline County earned four awards for their service projects as well as the first ever National Outstanding Service Project award given for best overall project performed within the organization for One Girl: One World. “The award also came with a $1000 cash prize. We put that $1000 back into the budget for this year’s One Girl: One World program to make the program even better,” says Benson.
For more information regarding Junior Auxiliary of Saline County, visit jasalinecounty.org.