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A Virtual Celebration
of 50 Years of Junior
Auxiliary’s Charity Ball

by Audrey Hanes, Photos by Melissa Donner

As Junior Auxiliary of Jonesboro celebrates 50 years of Charity Ball this month, the event and celebration itself will look much differently than the five previous decades of elegant evenings for a good cause. As the 2021 Charity Ball goes virtual, members are calling on the community to help them raise funds to be able to continue to serve the children of Craighead County, even in these uncertain times.

The 2021 Charity Ball, “Reflections,” will take place later this month over the course of two weeks. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the nonprofit decided to host a virtual gala this year to protect the health and safety of its members and guests.

“In a year when change is the greatest constant, one thing that hasn’t been altered is the need of the children of Craighead County and the willingness of the ladies of Junior Auxiliary of Jonesboro to step forward to meet it,” said 2020-2021 Junior Auxiliary of Jonesboro (JA) President Katie Prescott. “I’m so proud of how our members have worked cooperatively with the groups we serve to find new and innovative ways to meet the essential focus of our 12 service projects in a manner that allows us to responsibly social distance and do our part to slow the spread of COVID.”

She said that the nonprofit organization has had to make similar changes to its annual fundraising event, making it even more important for the community to support the group and its works with a virtual Charity Ball.

“We greatly appreciate the generous donations from our community sponsors in providing so many wonderful items for our auctions,” said Prescott. “While we are disappointed not to be able to put on the event that so many wonderful supporters attend every year, we are looking forward to hosting an event that allows us to fund our service projects over the next year and hope to see everyone when we have our 51st annual Charity Ball in person in 2022.”

The extensive silent auction will open on Feb. 14 at 9 a.m. and will continue through Feb. 28 at noon. The event program will be available online on Feb. 27. Organizers say that the online auction will also feature vacations, jewelry and other luxury items that are typically featured in the live auction.

“When I agreed to be the finance project chair, I had visions of how the room could be decorated, what meal choices we could provide and, hopefully, make groundbreaking profits to go toward the project budget for the upcoming year,” said 2021 Charity Ball Chair Sheri Walker. “There has actually been less work for the members on the planning of the fundraiser than in years past, but restructuring the new format has been the biggest stressor of it all. There were committees that didn’t have a job to take care of once it was no longer an in-person event. The decorations committee usually handles all decorations of the venue, and now there is no venue to decorate. The invitations and registration committee usually designs and mails invitations out and checks in guests upon arrival, now there are no invitations to mail or guests to check in as it is all going to be done digitally. We’ve really had to think outside the box in our planning, and, rather than being assigned to a committee, it has been an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“… We still want people excited about our fundraiser. The good thing about this new shift in the fundraising this year is that our budget has lowered tremendously. … We actually have the opportunity to profit more if we can keep our audience engaged and excited. The new virtual gala can even reach people beyond our area to donate toward our mission. In years past, a ticket was to be purchased, but now that it is virtual, not only will the auctions be available to anyone who registers to bid, a program from Nelson Films in partnership with Embassy Suites is going to be available on Feb. 27 (the original date for the in-person event) that will give a glimpse to everyone of what our nonprofit does behind the scenes in the community projects.”

Walker hopes that in light of the extraordinary circumstances that led to a virtual Charity Ball, in addition to the active, life and associate JA members, the 50th annual event can also honor the community’s continued support for those 50 years.

“This year we had planned on honoring all members for the past 50 years for giving their time and their hearts to the community of Jonesboro,” said Walker. “Junior Auxiliary of Jonesboro has made enormous headway since it started in 1950 from 31 members who just wanted to make a difference. I now think that it would also be wonderful to honor our community as a whole this year. Not only have many families in our town been going through the pandemic with all of the challenges it has handed us, we have also gone through a massive tornado at the beginning of the quarantine process that caused homes to be lost and lives to have to start over. 

“Members of JA can celebrate 50 years of Charity Ball and how much it has profited to continue the work they have vowed to provide to Craighead County, while the community and JA members can both celebrate living in such a helpful, giving community, no matter what life hands over.”

Now in her fourth year in the organization, the Jonesboro native and Nettleton alumni is passionate about what JA does for the children of Craighead County. Prior to taking on the role of chair of Charity Ball, Walker served on two projects that worked directly in the schools.

“Of the 12 community projects, I chose to serve on the Literacy & More project, where I held a book club with fifth graders,” she said. “One year it was a group of boys, and the next was a group of girls. We had lunch every week and discussed the book of choice, as well as celebrated birthdays that came along, played games and just talked about things that had been weighing on them or that was exciting news that needed to be shared.

“Another project I love is Growing Healthy. Although it’s not for all, I love science and love getting the subject down to the level of groups of sixth graders. This project incorporates dissection of swine organs to show how exercise, healthy diet, smoking and vaping can ultimately have long-term effects on your body, whether good or bad. Video games and phones are huge in kids’ lives at this day and age, and we need to show them that they still need to get out and move. With me being a dental hygienist, I always tried to incorporate how dental health can also affect your heart if you aren’t serious about it. I even pulled my kids out of classes to watch as we did the dissections when we were scheduled to come to their schools. It was always amazing how the attitudes of the kids were when they entered the room and the attitudes of how they left. It went from grossed out to amazed most of the time, and it’s a great feeling to think that you made it exciting for them – that they like to see how the science of the body can work.”

The women of JA spent more than 2,758 hours in 2020-2021 working on those two projects, along with Consolidated Youth Services (CYS), Crown Club, Girl’s Enrichment Junior High, Girl’s Enrichment Senior High, Kick-Start Kindergarten, Scholarship, Share & Wear, The Learning Center (TLC), Times Tales and Community Outreach Programs (COPS).

Walker says that although it’s been a struggle at times and that about half of the projects have been directly affected because visitors are no longer allowed in school buildings due to the pandemic, JA members have found ways to still impact as many children as possible.

“Projects such as the Junior and Senior High Girl’s Enrichment, CYS and Crown Club have done a mix of virtual and in-person meetings depending on what activity has been planned for the month and how much room there can be to space out,” she said. “Some have even done a virtual cooking session to learn how to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, which was very well received by everyone.”

She says that while some of the exclusively in-school projects, such as Kick-Start Kindergarten, Growing Healthy and Times Tales, have been greatly affected by COVID-19 safety regulations, many projects have actually thrived as needs in the community have shifted.

“Our COPs project (Community Outreach Project) has received opportunities to help out other nonprofits such as the Food Bank and City Youth and even volunteered to help at the Christmas in the Park event; this project has gotten so many opportunities to volunteer that other members who are lacking in volunteer hours have jumped in to help this project,” said Walker. “Our Share & Wear project is running as normally as possible; social workers and counselors contact JA members on this committee if they have a child that needs clothing that is weather- or size-appropriate. With that being said, with many kids being virtual students, some of the kids that are in need are not being seen by the school representatives that can be the mediator between the child and JA representative.  The TLC project has still been able to help with activities for people at The Learning Center, as well as providing a birthday club once a month. Members are making sure that there is enough to help out but not too many to not be safe. 

“Our scholarship program is going to be unchanged, as well. As long as our funding stays as it has, we plan on providing scholarships to traditional and non-traditional students to further their education in trade school, community college or the university of their choice. The scholarship program is the oldest program that JA Jonesboro provides and will probably be another very important program to maintain for years to come.”

As they hope and pray for business-as-usual next year when it comes to supporting all 12 projects and holding an in-person fundraiser, the 2021 Charity Ball chair wants to remind the community that it’s extremely important to support JA in the meantime.

“It is so important to keep our funding up now, because I predict that once schools are open again to visitors and volunteers, these services are going to be overrun with help needed from all our committees,” said Walker. “The shift in education has had just as much of a struggle as nonprofits have had. … We still provide 12 community projects for Craighead County, and we depend on the profit of our only fundraiser more than ever.” 

For more information about Charity Ball 2021 or for more information about Junior Auxiliary of Jonesboro, visit jajonesboro.org.