By Kyle VrskaArkansas Media Relations
The Northwest Arkansas Emergency Children’s Shelter, located in Bentonville, is a place that provides shelter for children (as young as three years old) and teens (as old as 16 years old) that have had a rough upbringing. The shelter is a temporary housing complex for the kids until a proper foster home can be found and every year the shelter teams up with the University of Arkansas Athletic Department, specifically Student Life Coordinator Rodger Hunter, to bring the kids to campus and give them a tour of the athletic facilities and introduce them to current Razorback student-athletes.
The program was started in 1997 with the hopes of lifting the kids’ spirits.
“We want them to be a Razorback,” Hunter said. “We want to encourage them and give them some hope and love, just to let them know they’re they’re special.
Hunter knows the program and its goals well as he has been coordinating it since 2000. Generally, the program takes 15 of the kids and takes them into places that people don’t usually get to see behind the scenes at some of the Razorback Athletic venues..
The program always takes place the week after Independence Day and this year was no different. The tour started in Bud Walton Arena where the kids got to meet Rotnei Clarke and Michael Sanchez. Clarke and Sanchez played basketball on the court with the kids and afterwards autographed gear for them. The tour then moved to Barnhill Arena where the kids got to play volleyball. In addition to going onto the courts in both arenas, the kids were escorted through both museums to see some of the greatest highlights in Razorback sports history.
The final stop of the tour was Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium where the kids were given a full walk-through of the football locker rooms and were taken to the very top of the bleachers to look down on the football field. Following that jaw-dropping view of the new turf, the kids got their chance to run around and play on it with D.J. Williams, Mitch Petrus, DeMarcus Love, Ben Cleveland, Alex Tejada and Lucas Miller.
Following that meeting, the kids were treated to every kid’s favorite meal, pizza and soda. Of course no trip to Razorback Stadium would be complete without visiting the football museum in the Broyles Center. After all of the walking through the various arenas were complete, Hunter and the kids had water balloon fight inside the Broyles facility.
Many recent Razorback football greats took part in the program which provides a great opportunity to those in need including: Cedric Cobbs, Tony Bua, Darren McFadden, Matt Jones, Zac Tubbs and Peyton Hillis. Arguably the biggest contribution any player has made to the program was Brandon Burlsworth.
“[Brandon] just really took a liking to these kids,” Hunter said. “He set the tone for what this program is all about. He was a tremendous presence in this program, making these kids feel really special is what it’s all about.”