Trapper Joe Lafont and Trigger Tommy Chauvin traveled from the deep swamps in Louisiana to Benton on Saturday for the 34th annual Boys & Girls Club of Saline County fundraiser.
The stars of the popular History Channel television reality show "Swamp People" were the honored guests of the "Get Swamped"-themed party.
Lafont and Chauvin were interviewed by Steve "Wildman" Wilson, public affairs coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and host of the Talkin' Outdoors television show. Guests then asked numerous questions — from "How many alligators have you killed?" to a little boy asking if he could go gator hunting with the two.
The Louisiana natives were greeted with an Arkansas Razorback "hog call" from the audience.
Aside from the food buffet — which included gumbo courtesy of Riverside Market, fried catfish and chicken strips provided by Eat My Catfish, desserts by Big Red stores, drinks by Chicken Express — the other highlight of the event were the awards handed out to local residents.
Twelve-year BGC of Saline County employee Tyrone Fogle was honored with the national Helping Hand award.
"(Fogle) has mentored, coached, disciplined and inspired more than 8,000 of the most serious and violent juvenile offenders in Arkansas," said the club's chief professional officer, Jasen Kelly.
"You may not know that there is another Boys & Girls Club at the Alexander Youth Services Center. Every day Tyrone Fogle leads more than 100 adjudicated youth in employability and work maturity skills, character and substance prevention programs. He has gone above and beyond year after year."
BGC of Saline County Unit Director Heath Massey then introduced Benton resident Ricky Gipson, son of community volunteer leader Oveta Pledger, who was honored with the Youth of the Year award. Massey said Gipson has been a member of the Benton club for more than 10 years.
"This is the highest honor a Boys & Girls Club member can receive," Massey explained. "(Gipson) has demonstrated success in the club, in the classroom and on the (basketball) court. He has a sound character, possesses strong leadership skills and a willingness to give back to the community."
The third award was the Boys & Girls Club of America award. It was given to the family of Jimmy, Becky, Max and Jean Blake "for their commitment to the youth of Saline County."
"This family has spent the last 28 years serving the children of the community," Massey said. "For many years, this family has donated clothing and countless shoes to underprivileged children in our area. They have been faithful donors and helped with member scholarships for countless years. It's estimated that this family has suited up over 50,000 youth sports players in our region."
During the event, guests were given the opportunity to bid on numerous items on display at a silent auction table. Proceeds from the event benefit operational expenses for The Garden of Hope, Discovery and Dreams program at the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County.
The club received a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant to establish the community garden, which will be located behind the Boys & Girls Club on Cox Street in Benton.
"The club will need certain items to complete this project," Kelly said. "These include gardening tools, water hoses, a small gardening shed, chicken coop, topsoil, treated 6-by-6-foot timbers, mulch, etc."
The goal for the Garden of Hope, Discovery and Dreams reportedly is to be a safe, accessible and welcoming place for the children and families in need to come together to celebrate and learn about gardening, while helping to create a sustainable food source. The Garden of Hope, Discovery and Dreams is a project-based engaged learning activity that is designed to help youth develop project skills. Project skills are specific to the garden subject matter, such as learning how to design a garden, construct a garden, plant seeds, make a compost pile, and the science of gardening.
The community garden will be created based on the applications of STEM lessons and the integration of Arkansas 4-H's educational support and Master Gardeners’ hands-on teaching. Students will investigate, research, and examine the procedures to produce tangible results.
The purpose of engaging in The Garden of Hope, Discovery, and Dreams reportedly is to develop knowledge related to healthy food, increase awareness of obesity, and address food insecurities.
Statistics indicate that 78 percent of children in Arkansas who are living at the poverty level or below are overweight or obese (National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality). Typically, limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a commonality in a poverty-level home. Students and families will have the opportunity to discover how simple, cost-effective and nutritious cultivating food can be through educational experiences in the program.
Board members of the club include: Jim Handley, president; Frank "Corky" Chenault, vice president; Holley Little, secretary; Gar Lile, treasurer; Brad Glover; Chad Hendrix; Jim Ed Stilwell; Fred LaMaster; Bryan O’Neal; Paul White; Tonya Morgan; Jeff Hamm; Dottie Morrison; David Hopkins; and Lisa Thornton.
For more information or to make donations, call the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County at 315-8100 or www.scbgclub.com .