Upon entering the Venue at Westwind on Oct. 29, you might come across dancing ghouls, vampires and zombies catching on in a flash. You might even catch a glimpse of Dracula trying out his Transylvania Twist. But this graveyard smash isn’t just about the lively spirits.
The Monster Bash is a fundraising event for Home for Healing, a nonprofit organization that provides a place to stay for cancer patients receiving treatment and the parents of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Formerly known as Family Home, it has served Arkansans for 18 years, housing people who are underinsured or uninsured and are in financial need. It only charges $10 a night, but no one is turned away for the inability to pay.
“We are more than just a place for a roof over their heads,” Home for Healing Executive Director Kristin Trulock says. “We are trying to encompass mind, body and soul in the whole recovery process and battling with cancer in the sense that we really get to know these people and they truly become our families.”
COVID-19 has limited its housing capacity to two-thirds full. It does not currently have the capabilities to work with volunteers, but post-pandemic, there will be plenty of resources available to educate new parents on how to care for their child. The goal is to provide counseling services for caregivers, including pet therapy, art therapy and gardening, and essentially to provide for any legal, financial or emotional needs.
"The home has been here, and nobody knows that we’re here," Trulock says. "We have the same mission and goals as we always have of helping people, but on a new level.”
The home provides dinners at night that are tailored to the needs of the people living in the home. It also has a partnership with CityCenter where people staying at Home for Healing can go every other week to get necessities from its food bank, which features meats, frozen pizzas, vegetables and other sustainable options. Highland Dairy supplies the home with free milk, yogurt and other dairy products. The home also offers homemade soups to guests, as well as healthy snacks and drinks in the kitchen.
And when needed, Trulock or the house manager will personally drive guests to the store to pick up groceries. When COVID-19 finally passes, Home for Healing will seek more volunteers to help with that process, but for now, it's up to just a few employees.
“When COVID lifts, we are trying to become a one-stop shop for cancer patients and NICU parents," Trulock says. "It will take our community to pull off something like this. We all can come together to offer those resources for those in need.
This year's Monster Bash is chaired by Leslie Parnell, the SVP of treasury management and strategic development at Simmons Bank. She was raised in Little Rock, but lived in Chicago for 20 years before returning when her father passed away. A little more than a year after she moved back, she discovered a lump that was quickly confirmed to be breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, the whole process spanning from January to December of 2018.
Parnell met Trulock in the midst of rounding out chemotherapy and starting radiation through a friend who was working with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Parnell knew she wanted to give back, but wasn’t sure how. Trulock approached her with the chance to chair Komen's Runway for the Cure. Parnell jumped on the opportunity and began planning, and though COVID-19 foiled those plans, she was determined to help somehow.
“For me, going through cancer, there were the personal growth aspects of it, where you just feel empowered knowing what you’ve done, knowing how strong you had to be to get through that year,” Parnell says. “For me, too, it’s been a question of ‘How can I take that experience and help others along the way?’ It’s empowered me to want to help others get through that situation.”
When Trulock began working at Home for Healing, she called Parnell to tour the facility. Parnell had always felt so grateful to have health care and her mom within 10 minutes of where she lived, but when she visited Home for Healing, she realized just how fortunate she had been.
“Cancer really is a family affair, so that is what makes the home so meaningful to me, is because they work so hard to keep the families happy and the families together,” Parnell says. “It’s not just about the patient, but it's also about the caregiver. Having been through this journey with my family so close and my friends so close, that’s what the home is about. It’s about keeping the family unit together so they can get through this very trying time together.”
Between that realization and sympathizing with the NICU parents as a mother in her own right, Parnell knew she wanted to get more involved and give back through the Monster Bash, so she and Trulock teamed up again.
“When you’re going through cancer, you already can feel very alone and isolated,” Parnell says. “You can feel like it’s just you, so to have a support group and know you have a roof over your head — a lot of folks don’t have the ability to pay the $10 a night fee. They don’t have the ability to go back and forth. They might not have a warm home or a cool home. At the Home for Healing, you have everything you need. You have a full kitchen, you have a bedroom with fans and lights and AC and beautifully decorated. And support.”
Unlike in the nonprofit's early days, the home’s doors are now open to anyone receiving cancer treatments or with children in the NICU, not just the patients of any specific hospital. Patients and parents must express their need for a place to stay to their social worker in order to be referred to the Home for Healing.
“I like that it’s locally focused,” Parnell says. “We partner with a magnitude of hospitals. It’s not just UAMS patients, it’s any patient in need of a home. It’s there to support everyone.”
Despite the inability to volunteer directly because of COVID-19, there are other ways to help the Home for Healing, which runs entirely on donations, grants and sponsorships. It has a wishlist available on its social media platforms and is always in need of cleaning supplies, toiletries, drinks and snacks. However, it takes more than $20,000 a month to run the home, so financial assistance is the best way to help out.
“It matters more now because of where we are as a society,” Parnell says. “It’s supporting each other. It’s being kind. It’s knowing that others need that hand to get through certain situations and helping them through that. We can all find that in ourselves to understand that while you may not need it right now, you may need help down the road. It’s selfless giving. It’s helping people you don’t know. This is an opportunity to help those in need you might not otherwise get the opportunity to do so.”
Traditionally, Monster Bash provides approximately one-third of Home for Healing's income for the year. It is the home’s largest fundraiser, but it's also one of the largest Halloween parties in the state. As chair of the event, Parnell is working with Trulock and past and present committee members and chairpersons while keeping the event moving forward.
“We want to make this event even more successful than past years,” Parnell says. “It’s been such a great event, it’s been so successful, but I want to leave my mark as a successful chair. So we are making very exciting changes to the event and the program, including different awards and recognition for folks. Everyone is donating their time and their talents and their efforts to make this successful.”
Guests are of course encouraged to attend in costume, for which there will be contests for best-dressed individuals and groups. There will be signature spooky drinks and eerie finger foods, as well as live music from the band Just Sayin’. Poolboy from Alice 107.7 will emcee the evening, while Stuart Cobb will be honored with the Home for Healing Impact Award.
“As soon as you turn a corner into the venue, you’ll feel like you’re going into a haunted house,” Trulock says. “It’s a great evening of coming together, but not forgetting our cause. We’ll be hearing our patients' stories and having a phenomenal live auction. It’s just so much fun with the contest and seeing everyone’s costumes. It’s going to be a high-level costume party.”
The bash will have COVID-19 safety protocols in place, but for those uncomfortable participating in person, there are virtual tickets that include the opportunity to participate in the program and auctions.
For Parnell, it's a fun, spooky celebration of a mission that couldn't hit closer to home, even in a time of such worldwide hardship.
“I know I might not be talking with the patients or the caregivers, but if we as a group can keep them in the home and keep people coming back and knowing that it’s a resource for them, then that’s me doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. “It’s bigger than myself. That’s what giving back should be.”