A longtime advocate of children-focused programs, Congressman French Hill is the Centers for Youth and Family’s 2018 Hero of Hope.

The Champions of Hope aren’t angels. They aren’t sweethearts.

And that’s the point. This year the Centers for Youth and Families, in its ongoing quest to promote social wellness, inaugurated its Champions of Hope volunteer program for high school boys. The brainchild of CFYF Foundation board member Trena Nosler — co-chair of the CFYF Evolve fundraiser — the program offers young men entering their junior and senior years a chance to participate in numerous service projects.

“I brought this idea to Centers’ Foundation and they quickly jumped on board to help me make the inaugural year happen,” Nosler says.

Nosler, whose daughter is an avid, local volunteer, noticed that the Little Rock area frequently benefits from girls volunteer programs like the Arkansas Heart Association’s Sweethearts and the 20th Century Club Lodge’s Angels of Hope.

“There is nothing like that for boys,” Nosler said.

At least there wasn’t.

Champions of Hope will be recognized at the annual Evolve event, where The Centers will also honor Arkansas Congressman French Hill as the 2018 Hero of Hope.

Hill, elected in 2014, has long taken an interest in programs and organizations that help young people, including his time as a former board member of Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a supporter of the Boy Scouts.

“[I’m] thankful for this recognition and being associated with our very effective Centers for Youth and Families,” Hill says.

Valuable Resource

Founded in 1884 as the Children’s Aid Society, CFYF is the oldest continuously operating nonprofit in the state. It was also known as the Little Rock Orphans’ Home, the Elizabeth Mitchell Memorial Home, the Elizabeth Mitchell Children’s Home and the Elizabeth Mitchell Center.

It transformed into the CFYF in 1987 in a merger with Little Rock Parent Center and Stepping Stone, Inc.

While there have been multiple name changes, the CFYF has always kept the well-being of children and families at its heart. These days the focus is on providing help for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed kids, providing prevention services to at-risk children and teens and parenting resources for families.

“The Centers’ work is essential,” Hill says. “It’s about offering hope to our most valuable resource, our young people.”

Through its many programs, CFYF helps children with learning differences, runaways, victims of human trafficking, teen parents, expecting parents and foster families, as well as helping families address typical issues and challenges.

Services include outpatient counseling, residential treatment, The Parent Center, therapeutic foster care and day treatment. CFYF has three residential centers for ages 12-17 and for ages 5-11 in Little Rock, and for ages 5-17 in Monticello.

“They’re coming and going from school. Some just come for therapy,” says Nosler, who came aboard with CFYF after a single volunteer stint.

“Access to thoughtful, caring, behavioral health care for our kids has never been more important,” Hill says of CFYF’s necessity. “This generation suffers from divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, social media bullying and depression.

“I’m grateful, too, for The Centers’ sensitive handling of one of society’s most disturbing trends, human trafficking. In Congress, we have passed more than a dozen bills addressing this international and national travesty.”

Volunteer Spirit

CFYF always has a need for volunteers who can take tickets, provide event manpower, help with planning or assist with back-to-school supply drives, holiday donations and toy drives, but The Centers also provide specific volunteer programs.

Emerging Leaders, begun in 2011, is designed to help young professionals develop their career and leadership skills through volunteering at The Centers and through guidance from experienced leaders.

Champions of Hope is devised as a six-month program in which incoming junior and senior boys participate in several service projects that benefit CFYF directly.

“Not only will these young men learn the value and responsibility of volunteerism,” Nosler says, “they will also accomplish team-building challenges, find themselves educated about CFYF and the families they are helping, all while bringing even more awareness to the great things CFYF has done, is doing and will be doing throughout our great state and for these amazing kids.”

With the theme “A Night in the Jungle,” Evolve will raise funds to support CFYF services and programs like Champions of Hope. This year’s event proceeds will go toward providing parenting classes for families, birthday parties and field trips for children in day treatment or residential care and clothing, toiletries and stuffed animals for children who arrive to residential services empty handed.

While there are grants and federal funding backing The Centers, according to Nosler, fundraisers like Evolve are critical to covering costs.

A long-time supporter of the kind of work CFYF does, Hill voted in the recent House session in favor of legislation like the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017 and the Increasing Opportunity and Success for Children and Parents Through Evidence Based Home Visiting Act.

In his blog from Washington, Hill noted his support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and his “yea” vote in November for the Championing Healthy Kids Act, which reauthorized CHIP.

Nosler points to Hill’s voting record and interest in the well-being of young people as the basis for his selection as the 2018 Hero of Hope,

“If it’s something for kids, he’s for it,” Nosler says.

And that includes Champions of Hope and its vision for inspiring young, male leaders.

“Little Rock has a number of service-related recognitions for young women,” Hill says. “Young men need to be lifted up in their roles as gentlemen, future husbands and community leaders. We need our young men engaged in our communities, graduating from high school and having a plan for their own pursuit of happiness.”

Evolve: A Night in the Jungle is set for Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Statehouse Convention Center
TICKETS + INFO: CFYFEvolve.Gesture.com