Supporters of Open Arms Shelter at Lonoke filled the Cabot Junior High School North cafeteria Thursday evening for the second annual Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Banquet.
Keynote speakers on the evening were Vicky Williams and her son, D.J. Williams, who spoke of their experience with domestic abuse, the extremes they went through, and how a service such as Open Arms could have made a great difference for them, if it was known to be available.
Open Arms director Nancy Hamlin reminded banquet goers that there is more than 4,000 children in foster care in Arkansas; 61 children, have been taken in at Open Arms this year already. Open Arms gives the quality foster care for many of the county’s children, "where we try to show them there is a world of possibilities to them," she said.
Vicky Williams, followed by her son, D.J., said her marriage went well for the first 10 years, until they experienced two tragedies, Williams recalled. Afterward, her husband changed, she said.
After turning to alcohol, he began beating them, Williams said.
She recalled leaving but that she "kept going back."
"I didn’t know there was a place I could go," she said.
The abuse continued to get worse, but she remained in the home thinking she was protecting her children, but she did not realize the toll it was taking. "They were waiting for me to do something."
Deciding to leave, she realized that if they left, "Then we leave with the clothes on our backs. Leave the job, leave the house, leave everything," she recalled.
It was the support of shelters that helped them through the times, Williams said.
The oldest child now has a job in the medical field, the middle child is a doctor of physical therapy, and D.J., a former Arkansas Razorback, is playing for the New England Patriots, Williams said.
D.J. Williams, spoke of how he still has moments of disbelief about the course his life has taken. "I have to stop myself. Wow, look at the places I’ve been," he said.
The places he has been, the people he has met. "I believe that not just children, but everybody has a purpose in life. That when you’re young, you start having dreams of what you’ll be. And fear sometimes gets in the way of those dreams," he said.
"You got to let them know that they have the opportunity to pursue those dreams, because they can let fear get in the way," Williams said.
"When you have someone that you know is going to be there for you, you can genuinely feel important," he said. For many children, that encouragement is found in people around them, the same way he found encouragement, he said.
"When you know you aren’t by yourself, that someone is there to give you help, they really believe that they can go out and be what they can be," Williams said.
"I think that is what we can give to the children here … Just to let them know that they do have a purpose in this life, even if they do not know what it is, but with our help we can them a chance to find out. Let them know that the only person who can stop them is their self," Williams said.
"I am living proof that when you help someone, they can see their dream and get it," Williams said.
Organizer Rhonda House told the history of Open Arms, and its need for support. It is a private organization that is dependent upon community support.
The shelter was begun in 1986 by a group of concerned people of Lonoke County who saw the need for a shelter for children suffering abuse and neglect.
The Shelter outgrew a number of sites, including a former nursing home, until its 24-bed facility was built at Lonoke.
Open Arms provides both temporary and long-term shelter to children from birth to 18 years old.
Open Arms is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and is one of only a shelters where children under 8 years old; teen mothers with children; or large sibling groups can stay.
Open Arms is supported not only by cash donations, but by collection of supplies organized by churches, schools and other groups, she said.
For more information go online to openarmsshelter.org., or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open Arms Shelter, a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, is licensed by the state.