2024 Red Dress Gala: A Night of Diamonds and Pearls

Brittney Osborn


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2024 Red Dress Gala: A Night of Diamonds and Pearls

Volunteers with the Community Health Education Foundation work tirelessly each year to help fund health education and prevention programs for the Jonesboro community. The nonprofit organization will honor five of those volunteers and businesses at its annual Red Dress Gala, which will take place later this month to raise funds to further CHEF’s mission.

Chairing Red Dress Gala 2024, which will take place on Feb. 24, are longtime volunteers Denise Gschwend and Vallerie Sills.

Gschwend has been spreading heart disease awareness for more than 20 years; she first got involved two decades ago with Helen Benton when she was asked to design the red dresses for the Red Dress Fashion Show, and she has volunteered with the event ever since.

“The Community Health Education Foundation has a mission to serve the community in health education and prevention of disease through a wide array of health education programs,” said Gschwend, who has been with Mid-South Sales for 23 years. “CHEF provides resources and promotes wellness through education and screenings that we offer our community. CHEF has saved many lives through our AEDs that we have been able to give to many locations in our community. … I’m looking forward to raising money so we can place many more AEDs in our community and hope to save many more lives.”

Sills, a former Red Dress Gala honoree herself, has been volunteering with CHEF for 10 years.

“Decorating for the event is always fun, and this year I am looking forward to the theme change; I believe a lot of those attending like that aspect of it, and most love to dress the part, which makes it fun,” said Sills. “… It is rewarding in the end to see that we are helping to get more AEDs installed in businesses, schools, gyms and churches around Northeast Arkansas that we are able to purchase from the funds we receive from our event.”

CHEF’s longtime Executive Director, Emily Lard, says that in addition to Sills and Gschwend’s leadership, Red Dress Gala would not be possible without a dedicated team of volunteers that includes Stacey Schratz leading the auction team, Sue Ellen Price leading the ticket and logistics team and Kim Hauge leading the decorations team.

“There will be an enormous array of heavy hors d’oeuvres selections that Sodexho does an awesome job preparing and displaying, a wine and beer bar, a mixed drink bar, a champagne fountain and desserts provided in theme by Lisa’s Cakes and Nothing Bundt Cakes,” said Lard of what guests can expect.

Lard said that the auction items are also sure to impress guests and CHEF supporters. Live auction highlights include a $4,500 goose hunt, an incredible piece of jewelry from Sissy’s Log Cabin, a trip to Turks & Caicos donated by Pat and Art Wolover and a private seafood party for 30 with live entertainment and games at Cajun Café. Silent auction items include weekend trips, Memphis Grizzlies tickets, Red Wolf tickets, Razorback tickets, concert tickets to Lionel Richie-Lauren Daigle-Melissa Ethridge, several spa packages, health and beauty products and procedures, art, lamps, furniture, firearms and more.

Organizers hope that when it comes time for the auctions, attendees focus on what the money is being raised for in the community.

“Supporting CHEF through the gala, whether it be by attending, being a sponsor or donating auction items, you are financially supporting the educational programs we are behind,” said Lard, which include awareness of women and heart disease and educating the community on sudden cardiac arrest and the importance of its AED Placement Program.

A highlight of the event each year is the recognition of several individuals and businesses who give back and make a difference in the community. This year’s honorees include Connie Hill, DNP, MBA, FACHE, Health Advocate; Harold Perrin, Ed Way Community Support and Philanthropy Award; Farmers & Merchants Bank, Corporate Community Service and Support Award (More Than 50 Employees); PakMail, Corporate Community Service and Support Award (Fewer Than 50 Employees); and Amy Crain, Red Dress Ambassador.

Diamonds and Pearls, Red Dress Gala 2024, will take place from 6:30-11 p.m. on Feb. 24, at Arkansas State University’s Centennial Hall. Tickets are $125 each or $950 for a table. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (870) 931-4044 or visit chefjonesboro.org.

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Connie Hill, DNP, MBA, FACHE, Health Advocate

Hill will be honored at this month’s Red Dress Gala as the 2024 Health Advocate. She currently serves as St. Bernards Medical Center’s vice president of patient services, which includes responsibility for the Cardiac and Vascular Service Line, Perioperative Services and the Emergency and Trauma Service Line. Both in a professional capacity and as a volunteer-driven member of the Jonesboro community, Hill has worked to better the cardiovascular health of those around her.

“There are a number of projects in which I have been blessed to participate, but a great deal of my career and life has been focused on the establishment and growth of the Cardiac, Vascular and EP programs at St. Bernards,” she said. “These programs and providers have had a tremendous impact on the community. Most recently, we added advanced heart surgery, and this added additional services for which patients no longer have to leave Northeast Arkansas.

“Great work has been done in this arena by our hospitals in Northeast Arkansas and by CHEF, but it does not stop there. Once each woman commits to being heart healthy themselves, they become a role model for those around us as well as the next generation of women who will be mothers, wives, leaders, teachers, doctors, etc.”

Hill says she is especially proud of the work CHEF continues to do with its AED Placement Program.

“Sudden cardiac death can result from a number of causes, but quick intervention is the key, and the AED program makes it possible to save a life immediately,” she said.

In addition to her involvement with CHEF, Hill is a member of the Hispanic Board, serves on the Women’s Council for St. Bernards and is a board member for Arkansas Continued Care Hospital.

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Harold Perrin, Ed Way Community Support & Philanthropy Award

Former City of Jonesboro Mayor Perrin will be awarded the Ed Way Community Support & Philanthropy Award at the annual gala. The award was introduced in 2015 to honor the late Ed Way, a longtime philanthropist who was also an emeritus Red Dress Gala honoree.

Perrin has called Jonesboro home since attending Arkansas State University. After serving as mayor for 12 years, he is currently the senior vice president of business development for First Security Bank of Jonesboro. Perrin has also served as a city councilman and as a trustee for Arkansas State University, co-chaired the United Way Campaign, developed the AED Placement Campaign and served as co-chairman of the campaign for three years, and has been active with numerous other city committees and nonprofit organizations.

“We have so many great helping organizations in Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas that I have been fortunate to work with, groups like John 3:16, who is not funded at all by the state or government and has an 85% recovery rate, CityYouth, Arkansas State Police Foundation and The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas,” said Perrin. “There are so many I count as a privilege to work with and see the results of first-hand. … I think one of the main things we should do as humans is take care of those who have a need, and as a citizen of the community, we need to take care of our community in any way we can.”

Perrin is proud to be a part of a community that steps up to fill those needs and encourages those who don’t volunteer to make time to get involved and give back.

“Volunteering is critical in growing an organization and its programs,” he said. “I think to attract more volunteers, nonprofits need to do an incredible job of communicating their mission to the community. (People) need to just start first by giving some time to volunteer and learn about an organization. So many need (volunteers). Many think that they just don’t have the time. It’s all about time management, setting priorities and making your time matter.

“Jonesboro is a very benevolent and loving community. There is a place for anyone to be involved. This is your community; help to make it what you want it to be.”

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Farmers & Merchants Bank, Corporate Community Service and Support Award (More Than 50 Employees)

In 2019, Integrity First Bank merged with Farmers & Merchants Bank, bringing branches in Pocahontas and Jonesboro. Representatives from the bank say their goal is to enhance the well-being of both their employees and customers by treating everyone with dignity, respect and compassion.

The bank, which employs 320 people, is being honored with the Corporate Community Service and Support Award at Red Dress Gala. Randy Bearce serves as market president for Farmers & Merchants’ Jonesboro operations. A Jonesboro native, Bearce joined Farmers & Merchants Bank and Integrity First team in 2013.

“Great communities are made up of people who uplift and empower each other to be the best people, groups and leaders that they are capable of being,” said Bearce. “At Farmers & Merchants Bank, we understand that our success is deeply intertwined with that of our customers and the community. For this reason, the bank remains committed to investing in the community and its residents. Taking care of the community we serve not only ensures a better present but also lays the foundation for a brighter future.”

Farmers & Merchants Bank says its employees are encouraged to be actively involved in local organizations as part of the bank’s strong commitment to community involvement, which fosters a desire to deliver meaningful services and build strong relationships throughout the beautiful and diverse state of Arkansas.

“Since its founding in 1945, the leaders of Farmers & Merchants Bank have never forgotten why we’re in business in the first place,” said Bearce. “The folks who started our bank back then did so to make sure working folks could borrow the money to run their farms, fund their businesses, and build their families’ futures. Continuing this tradition today with investments in our team, our community and technology, our bank is and will always be focused on helping the community grow and prosper.”

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PakMail, Corporate Community Service and Support Award (Fewer Than 50 Employees)

When owner Tim Kincade bought PakMail in 2007, he says his business mission from the very beginning was to be the best at treating customers like family while providing the best customer service and great products, which he did by hiring employees that bought in to the business’ core values and processes. PakMail has continued to grow each year, with nine employees now working alongside Kincade.

The Corporate Community Service and Support Award winner is involved with many local causes and nonprofit organizations, including CHEF, the St. Bernards Health Expo, D.A.R.E, The Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, Make-a-Wish, CASA, The Special Olympics, the Best of NEA Contest, The Arkansas State Police Foundation, JBA, Adopt a Grandparent and many others.

“If there is an organization or group doing something that affects our community in a positive way and we can help, we do,” said Kincade. “My employees are always involved in what we get involved with. I share my vision of giving back, and they see that and are glad to be a part of whatever we do. When a company has employees that buy into the values of the company, that brings so much pride and joy.

“Taking steps that help to make our community a better place to live will always be a top priority for us.”

Kincade says he and his employees are truly honored to be recognized at the 2024 Red Dress Gala, especially since many of them have family and friends who have been affected by heart disease.

“I think that (CHEF’s) mission is clear, and the results speak for themselves,” he said. “It is such a great blessing to be a supporter of organizations that are literally saving lives.

“My staff, my wife (Rhonda) and I are honored, but humbled, and totally surprised by our nomination. … We have been blessed to be a part of something that has saved lives, and it will continue to do so as long as we stay involved and supportive. I don’t have the words to express the feelings that has on our hearts.”

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Amy Crain, Red Dress Ambassador

CHEF’s 2024 Red Dress Ambassador, Crain, is a lifelong Jonesboro resident who has been volunteering with CHEF for the past 10 years. She is passionate about educating the community that heart disease is the number one killer of women and using her volunteer experience to help prevent the disease.

“Women need to manage current health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,” said Crain. “You need to know your risk factors for heart disease. Eat a healthy diet and do regular exercise. … Women need to know, as they age, their risk for coronary heart disease increases and menopause also increases that risk.”

The Red Dress Ambassador says that the mission and work of CHEF is a way of life where volunteers can service their communities around them. It has also affected her personally.

Crain encourages members of the community to get out and volunteer, especially with organizations like CHEF that better the health of those it reaches.

“We need to do all we can to get the message out and help people know how important it is to communicate with all of your doctors,” she said. “There are lots of benefits to volunteering in our community. You can meet other individuals that are passionate about the same thing. Being a volunteer helps with self-confidence, self-esteem and life satisfaction.”

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