Tuesday, December 07, 2010

TOP STORY >> Atwoods helping abused children

 From left, Atwoods Ranch and Home staff members Bill Harris, Buddy Brumett, officer manager Donna Corley and assistant manager Steven Holbrick gather around the Wade Knox Christmas tree on Tuesday.

Leader staff writer

Atwoods in Lonoke, the farm and ranch store that opened in October in the old Walmart, has an angel tree unlike any other.

The 26 children represented on the tree are all victims of abuse who have been served by the Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center. And instead of buying clothing and toiletries, those who take angels from the tree are agreeing to buy for the children the one gift they want the most.

Karen James, the center’s director, said last week that a few of the children have asked for high-dollar items such as electronic games. But most had simple requests: baby dolls, hair bows, an Easy Bake oven, remote control cars….

“For the most part, their wishes were very childlike,” James said. “It makes you realize they really are just children.”

Keith Jones, the store manager, said Friday that all but eight of the angels have been taken from the tree.

Store employees took several, he said. They also have encouraged customers to participate either by donating money or taking angels.

For the most part, the angels left on the tree represent the expensive wishes of teenagers, Jones said. If they aren’t taken, the store has a backup plan – pictures of pets with Santa.

Jones’ wife Darla is the photographer, and volunteers wear the Santa suit. Photos are $10 for the first sheet and $9 for additional sheets.

The only cost to the store is the price of processing and all the proceeds not used to buy those expensive gifts will be donated to the center to be used as needed.

Jones said he and his wife started the Santa- and pet-picture fundraiser when he managed an Atwoods in Poteau, Okla.

When he suggested raising money for a charity to his new staff in Lonoke, they were excited about helping. The Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center was the obvious choice in part because it is practically next door, he said.

The center opened in August 2005. Since then, 835 children between the ages of three and 18 have been interviewed there by a trained forensic interviewer.

The interviews are taped and shared so the victims of abuse are not traumatized further by having to repeat their stories several times.

The current center is only 900 square feet, but a new, 3,700-square-foot facility is in the works.

James said the lot and plans have been purchased and some headway made toward grants to pay for construction.

James said it will have two waiting areas, a conference room, consultation room and a medical and mental health room.

“We’ll be able to offer more services than we do now,” she said.

But those plans are for later. Now, the focus is the upcoming holiday and James said “putting the twinkle back in the eyes” of children who have endured more than anyone ever should.

“With the very gracious help from the community, we’ll make it happen,” Jones said. “Taking care of God’s children is everyone’s responsibility.”

The deadline for bringing gifts to the store is Dec. 18. Santa will be at Atwoods from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.