In 1994, Cheryl Chapman, the founding director of UA Little Rock Children International, wanted to find a way for UA Little Rock to get more involved with helping students in the Little Rock School District.
“We were tutoring in public schools in Little Rock, and we learned about the needs of the children in the schools. We also had students who wanted to work more with the schools, so it was a perfect match,” Chapman said.
Then an assistant dean in the former College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Chapman and her colleagues applied for a grant from Children International. Initially called “Share America,” it represented Children International’s first domestic site in the U.S.
“In 1995, under the leadership of Chancellor Charles Hathaway, the Office of Campus and Community Partnerships was born and Share America became part of UA Little Rock’s commitment to engage students in service and learning activities,” she said.
The operation began small with just Chapman and one other employee located in an office on UA Little Rock’s campus. Students from UA Little Rock’s Student Literacy Corps served as tutors to 60 students at Bale Elementary. In 1995, the Homework Center, Children International’s current office, opened. Students from Bale and Franklin Elementary schools received tutoring and attended after-school classes in art, computers, reading, and gardening taught by UA Little Rock graduate students and local artists.
UA Little Children International celebrated its 25th anniversary with an April 19 gathering at UA Little Rock Downtown, where many came together to share stories about the program’s accomplishments and impact on children in central Arkansas.
Director Ryan Davis said the sight of so many friends and supporters at the celebration made him optimistic for the organization’s future.
“When I look around the room, I see all the people we can count as friends, and that is a fortunate thing,” Davis said. “We are fortunate to have so many partners who have stuck with us for 25 years, and we are looking forward to many more. This success is made possible by our partnerships with UA Little Rock, Little Rock School District, and so many wonderful parents, students, volunteers, partners, and supporters.”
The UA Little Rock program serves approximately 2,300 children and youth in central Arkansas. The program has grown extensively over the years and now offers a variety of school- and community-based programs, including after-school and summer programming, cooking classes, emergency food assistance, a children’s choir, and college preparation and career training.
“We serve students in kindergarten through age 24 in four areas of focus,” said Paula Rogers, program engagement manager at UA Little Rock Children International. “We want to make sure that our kids are healthy, educated, empowered, and employable. We have health programs to develop healthy habits and connect kids with the services they need. We provide quality after-school and summer programs. We build leadership, teamwork, and competence in our youth so they can go out and empower their communities. We help them develop life skills and social responsibility.”
Vakeyia Dulaney, a graduate of UA Little Rock Children International’s program, said being a part of the program changed her life. She started the program when she was 6, went on to graduate from UA Little Rock, and now works in forensic science for the state.
“I feel like Children International was the best thing ever,” Dulaney said. “It was a great opportunity to meet kids from other neighborhoods. It offered me a lot of opportunities, and I went on to college with their encouragement and support.”
During the celebration, Children International honored several key people and organizations that have supported the nonprofit over the years, including:
Outstanding Youth: De’Meir King
Outstanding Volunteer: Brandy Jones
Outstanding Partner: Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation
Outstanding Supporter: Windgate Foundation
Legacy Award: Little Rock School District
Thanks to a generous donation from the Windgate Foundation, Children International will be able to provide additional art programming opportunities for children as well as more scholarships.
To start, Children International will expand its summer art camp to include middle school students as well as extend the camp to Fridays. The theme of this year’s camp is “Art in Action.” It centers around creative and performing arts and will provide an opportunity for campers to explore the role they and art play in their communities. Children International will also be able to expand the Hope college scholarship from a one-time scholarship to a four-year renewable scholarship.
Additionally, Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation has been instrumental in working with Children International to provide dental services for children. In 2000, UA Little Rock Children International and its partner organizations established the Future Smiles Dental Program to provide services to children without access to adequate dental care.
The program started with dental screenings, added a school-based sealant project in 2002, and opened the Future Smiles Dental Clinic in 2005. Delta Dental has provided generous funding for the program as well as medical personnel to staff the dental clinics. Dental students from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences also volunteer at the clinics.
Outstanding Youth De’Meir King, a junior at Hall High School, was brought to tears as she spoke about the impact Children International has had on her life.
“When I hear about Children International, I get emotional. I love being a part of it,” King said. “CI has become my home away from home. I know that whatever I do, I will be greater because of CI. They have helped me find my voice. Thank you to CI for knowing that I have no limitations.”
In the upper right photo, UA Little Rock Children International celebrates its top supporters and partners during its 25th anniversary celebration. Those pictured (L to R) include Joseph Lampo, director of development and external relations for the UA Little Rock College of Arts, Letters, and Sciences: Little Rock School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Poore; Outstanding Volunteer Brandy Jones; Outstanding Youth De’Meir King; Chrissy Chatham and Weldon Johnson of Delta Dental of Arkansas Foundation; and UA Little Rock Children International Director Ryan Davis. Photo by Stephanie Jones.