Brunch is Back on the Menu for The Centers

The Centers for Youth and Families’ young professionals group, Emerging Leaders, understands a solid breakfast is the foundation for a good day. 

Taking this advice to heart, this month’s BrunchFest at downtown Little Rock venue The Hall is sure to set attendees and The Centers, Arkansas’ oldest nonprofit, up for great success. 

This fan favorite event is, just as the name suggests, a festival of brunch. The event has a history of selling out and includes food from some of central Arkansas’ best eateries, featuring all the brunching essentials from mimosas and bloody marys to merchandise and music. 

Volunteers from the Emerging Leaders group, presenting sponsor BKD and Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits have been working hard to make sure this year’s event is the best yet. 

“Since we had to scale back last year due to the pandemic, this year’s event will be much bigger and a great time no matter what age you are,” says Amanda McColey, Emerging Leaders vice president and BrunchFest co-chair. “Not only will BrunchFest highlight local restaurants and our community, it will also raise money to benefit The Centers, which wants to promote awareness, advocacy and community engagement.”

Credit: Jason Masters

Since 1884, The Centers organization has supported and committed to caring for children and youth who have been abandoned, neglected or abused. Meeting the unique and evolving needs of individuals by providing comprehensive, integrated care that promotes physical, emotional and social wellness for all, this nonprofit is a family for families. The Centers gives people confidence to lead socially and emotionally healthy lives.

With locations in Little Rock and Monticello, programs address typical concerns many individuals encounter along with serving specific populations such as socially and emotionally challenged and at-risk youth, runaway youth, foster children and families, victims of human trafficking and adults suffering from a variety of mental and behavioral challenges.

The Centers for Youth and Families Foundation connects the community to help children, families and adults find pathways to positive futures. Donations and support are critical in changing the lives of those who come to The Centers for its healing mental and behavioral health services that help them grow and thrive. 

McColey is also the CFO of Southern Reprographics Inc., a blueprint company that has long supported The Centers, including providing printing services for the recent Evolve Gala.

McColey’s breakfast and lunch mashup event collaborator, BrunchFest co-chair Mary Claire Hill, is the public relations director for MHP/Team SI, Arkansas’ largest full-service advertising agency.

“The agency is actually how I got involved with The Centers,” Hill says. “We’ve been supporting them for nearly 30 years, and I grew to understand and appreciate their work through that partnership and began volunteering on my own.”

Credit: Jason Masters

Gathering local restaurants, BrunchFest serves guests brunch bites of all types alongside favorite adult beverages.

“[BrunchFest] enables local restaurants to showcase their flavors to new customers,” Hill says, adding there’s even a kid-friendly area for families.

The Centers launched the Emerging Leaders group to foster the growth of the next generation of fundraising leaders. By creating opportunities for leadership, the hope is that it will translate into substantive support for the organization. Opportunities include volunteering throughout the year and joining committees to raise money and awareness for events such as BrunchFest, the Evolve Gala and the Centers Classic Golf Tournament.

“We are a fun, passionate and diverse group who love our community and are always looking for new members,” McColey says.

Members must be between the ages of 21 and 35 and contribute $120 to the nonprofit annually.

“The Emerging Leaders are a dedicated group of young professionals who support the mission of The Centers,” says Hill, who first got involved with The Centers in 2019 by serving as marketing chair for the Evolve Gala. “We volunteer throughout the year helping host events and fundraisers on- and off-site for the organization. BrunchFest is our big annual event and everyone pitches in to make it a success.”

After volunteering for The Centers in high school, McColey was motivated to do more for her community, and in 2020 she joined the young professional’s group.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic put everything, including volunteer efforts, to a near halt,” she says. “I ended up reaching out and meeting with Nikki Cantrell to see how I could become more involved, and I’m so thankful I did. Nikki and Allie Edwards, who both work at The Centers, jump-started the Emerging Leaders and put us back on track by helping us navigate through the pandemic so we could stay focused and committed to our goals. Their hard work, organization and overall dedication are just a few of the reasons why being a part of this team is so fulfilling.”

Credit: Jason Masters

The Centers has helped Arkansans for more than 138 years through programs ranging from human trafficking recovery to therapeutic foster care. The organization provides children and families with resources to work through past trauma, obtain the life skills they need to navigate everyday life and, ultimately, to build a better future. 

“One of the reasons I volunteer for The Centers is because I love our city, our state and the people in it. We have a strong and supportive community that I enjoy being a part of and always feel there’s room to do better,” McColey says. “I’m also a big supporter of mental health awareness and available access for everyone, especially children and adolescents.”

As events and volunteer opportunities pick back up, developing Emerging Leaders is a priority for The Centers as the group and its members are the future of advocacy for the organization. 

“We’re steadily growing and diversifying, allowing us to connect more closely with the mission, and in turn, share with our peers how important this work is,” McColey says.

“What unites us is our desire to improve the community.” Hill adds. “To do that, we have to help our neighbors. Together, our voices and our actions can be powerful enough to accomplish both.”


Amanda and Mary Claire share their brunch basics and even dish on some of the fun things to try at this year’s BrunchFest.

Favorite brunch dish:

AM: The Root’s sausage, egg and cheese biscuit or Boulevard Bread’s breakfast sandwich

MCH: Chicken and waffles

Mimosa or bloody mary?

MCH: Bloody mary

AM: Spicy bloody mary and garnished with the works (The Rail Yard has a delicious one)

Dish you’re most excited to try at BrunchFest:

MCH: Anything with bacon!

AM: Hill Station’s creation

How do you like your eggs?

AM: Fried and on a biscuit

MCH: Scrambled with cheese

Favorite brunch music for your vibe:

AM: Local band Modeling

MCH: ’90s pop

Loungewear, activewear or dressed-up?

MCH: Activewear all the way

AM: It depends on my mood, but always cute and comfy





June 25, 11 a.m. | The Hall

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