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Arkansas United Methodists walk for children, families

United Methodist youth and youth leaders are among the crowd crossing the new Big Dam pedestrian bridge in Little Rock, Ark., for the first Walk for Children rally in behalf of Methodist Family Health. A UMNS photo by Jane Dennis.

By Jane Dennis*
Aug. 14, 2007 | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS)

More than 250 people of all ages hiked across a new pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River to show support for Methodist Family Health, a ministry to children and families in Arkansas since 1899.

The Aug. 3 Walk for Children brought church youth groups from around the state to the Big Dam Bridge for the first-time event sponsored by Methodist Family Health in partnership with the Arkansas Conference United Methodist Council on Youth Ministries. The event raised more than $23,000 to help the agency provide behavioral healthcare services to children and families.

"We hope the Walk for Children increases awareness for Methodist Family Health, not just with Methodists but with the corporate community," said Andy Altom, president and chief executive. "We want to get the word out about our services and how we’ve grown and all the different ways that we can help families around the state."

Bridging the gap

The bridge, spanning three-fourths of a mile and connecting Little Rock with North Little Rock, opened in 2006 and is touted as the world’s longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge built and designed specifically for that purpose.

Participants donned orange event T-shirts and walked across the bridge and back, where pizza, bottled water, frozen treats and live music waited. Later, many youth took part in a conference-sponsored all-night "lock in" at a local water park — welcome relief from the sweltering 96-degree daytime temperature.

"It’s very hot," said 15-year-old Kelsey Brock of Smackover, who crossed the span with her friend Stephanie Clements, "but it’s still fun." They came with a large contingent from the youth group at Smackover United Methodist Church.

"It was easy going over, but coming back I had to stop and rest," said a red-faced, perspiring Taylor Keller, 15, a member of First United Methodist Church in Camden.

In the crowd were many United Methodist pastors including the Rev. David Moseley of First United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff, who pushed his granddaughter, Katherine, in a stroller.

Strong church support

Local United Methodist churches and individuals have been loyal supporters of Methodist Family Health, particularly at Christmas when drives are held for the United Methodist Children’s Home, which now falls under the Methodist Family Health umbrella.

The organization has changed dramatically since its beginning in 1899, when its mission was to serve as an orphanage and find loving homes for children in need. Today, Methodist Family Health provides comprehensive behavioral healthcare services to children and families. The organization’s continuum of care includes a psychiatric residential treatment center, therapeutic residential group homes, acute psychiatric hospital care, foster care services, day treatment program, early childhood development program, out-patient counseling services, emergency shelter and school-based counseling services. A program serving mothers with addictions and their children is the newest addition.

The picturesque pedestrian bridge, which at night is bathed in different color combinations of lights, was selected as the site of the inaugural event because "it is a new exciting attraction for Arkansas," said Maggie Beeler, director of special programs for Methodist Family Health.

But beyond the novelty of the bridge, the Walk for Children expanded "awareness of the behavioral health care services available to children and families across the state of Arkansas," Beeler said, "as well as continuing to raise funds to better serve the more than 600 kids and families currently in our behavioral hospital, shelter, and outpatient and residential centers."

*Dennis is editor of The Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Conference.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., 615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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