By Jennifer Hammond
Santa came to the Lonoke Community Center ready to party — and dance — Friday night for the second annual T-Gard Bail Bonds Monica Jones Photography Party with Santa, an event sponsored by Monica and E.J. Jones to benefit single working Lonoke mothers and their children.
Early in the evening, the children jumped in a bounce house and ate hot dogs and chips. As the evening wore on, they played games and danced with Santa while disc jockey Keylon Walker of Cabot turned out a variety of Christmas tunes to keep the party going.
At the end of the party, children from three Lonoke families opened gifts donated by various community members. The families were selected through nominations, which took place in the community prior to the event, Monica Jones said.
Katrina Hatton attended the event with her three daughters, 7-year-old Kadie, 3-year-old Adisyn and 10-month-old Rileigh. Hatton works in the infant room at First United Methodist Church Child Care Center, although she is currently recovering from surgery and on leave from work.
As the girls’ grandmother, Gloria Berryman, did the busywork of keeping up with the girls, Hatton described the challenges of being a single parent and expressed gratitude to the Jones for organizing the event. Hatton’s family was one of the three nominated to receive presents at the event.
"I’m really grateful for what they’ve done for my babies," she said. Hatton said she is still trying to figure out who nominated her family.
Monica Jones said the event is held each year in honor of Cleodus Castleberry and Walter Jones Jr. Both men died untimely and violent deaths last year, leaving behind young children who will now grow up fatherless, E.J. Jones said. Castleberry had one child and Walter Jones Jr. had five, according to E.J. Jones.
E.J. Jones said he hopes that the event will help these young kids who were left behind and other children like them. Castleberry was a man he had encountered many times through the services he offers with his bail bonds company, he said. Jones was trying to be a mentor to Castleberry at the time of his death, he said. Walter Jones Jr. was his cousin.
E.J. Jones acknowledged that it can be hard to help a person like Castleberry who has already strayed down a bad path in life. Through things like the Party with Santa, Jones said he would like to see fewer young men head down that path.
"I would like to help the young men who are left behind, instead of them becoming part of their negative environment," he said.
He emphasized the fact that the Party with Santa event is for all single moms. This, he said, is because the challenges of raising a family without the help of a father run across the board, in all demographics.