In its sixth year, the River Cities Dragon Boat Festival is just around the corner, and a team of Faulkner County supporters is heading a fundraiser Friday at Simon Park to further benefit the Children's Protection Center that the festival supports.

"In just a few weeks, our team will be paddling in the River Cities Dragon Boat Festival at Lake Willastein," the local team's flyer reads. "We are paddling to support children who visit [the] Children's Protection Center — a nonprofit agency that helps children who have been physically and sexually abused."

Boats and Rows is a local team comprised of area judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys, former and current military service members, teachers and also brags having two Razorback football players on its side.

"I think our team is very uniquely driven by our passion for helping and serving others," Lindsey Paxton, who is a probation officer for the Ninth Judicial District, said. "We all want to do our part to stop the cycle of abuse to children. We have members that represent all facets of service to our communities and they are all superheroes in their own right because they are all driven by their individual passions to make Arkansans and Arkansas communities a safer and better place for us all to thrive."

Faulkner County residents are encouraged to attend the team's benefit luncheon Friday at Simon Park as the group works to raise funds for CPC.

The First Security Bank teal grill will be onsite at the event that kicks off at 11 a.m. grilling burgers. The benefit lunch also includes chips, a drink and dessert in its mission meals.

Money raised during Friday's luncheon will go to CPC and will impact children across the state. The Boats and Rows team is raising this money, along with pledges by each of its 23 team members, in an effort to help CPC staff reach their $150,000 goal.

CPC Executive Director Jennifer Long said the River Cities Dragon Boat Festival is the center's largest fundraiser, noting each donation serves its purpose in creating a positive impact in the lives of children who have suffered physically and sexually traumatic encounters.

What to expect at the festival

The annual River Cities Dragon Boat Festival is a family-friendly event that takes place June 15 and 16 at Lake Willastein in Maumelle.

"For us, this event is the largest fundraiser for our center," Long said. "To do this [service] work, it takes a lot of money. Through this event, we want to not only raise money, but also raise awareness and the Dragon Boat festival focuses on the fact that it takes a team to do the work we do daily."

Participating teams will set up and decorate their tents June 15 and there will be live music featured from 7-9 p.m. Food trucks will also be onsite and attendees are encouraged to take the time to get to know one another as they set up for the big event scheduled for the next day, Long said, also noting there will be a fireworks show that night.

The big event kicks off at 8 a.m. June 16, with each team dressed in their wildly, festive costumes and preparing to embark on a race for a good cause across the waters.

"This is when corporate and community teams race for glory and prizes," according to the event's website, which also states that "there will be a number of things for folks to enjoy onshore, including [live music], food trucks, and a children's activity area" that features arts and crafts and more.

Prizes will be awarded throughout the day "for things such s best dressed drummer, best decorated tent and more," the event's website states.

While the event itself is filled with a weekend of family fun, its main purpose is to raise funds to help support abused children and raise community awareness, Long said.

At the end of the day, the important message of this annual event is to inform area residents about CPC and the work it does statewide for abused children.

CPC is the only organization of its kind in Pulaski County, Long said, noting the center also aides children in need across the state.

"The center works in collaboration with all the agencies that help children in abuse cases from local law enforcement to community mental health professionals," she said. "We believe in a coordinated approach to investigations that is at all times, child-centered, limit the number of interviews a child must undergo, work directly with families to navigate the unique investigation process, and we give loved ones the tools to help their children recover."

Paxton, who works as a local probation officer, said serving others, especially children, is a cause near and dear to her heart.

"I am and have always been drawn to a life that is in service to others and I try to surround myself with friends that view life in the same way I do — service above self," she said. "I always say [we've got to] dare greatly while we are here and try to do our part because ultimately, who are we if we are not trying to make the world a better place to live while we are here?"

She and the other 22 members who make up Boats and Rows will take to the waters of Lake Willastein in support of CPC and its mission in the annual River Cities Dragon Boat Festival later this month.

"My team is made up of family, co-workers and friends that embody the team, service above self, motto," she said as she also quoted Gordon B. Hinckley in saying "the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others."

The event is particularly meaningful to Paxton because it directly affects the state's youth, she said.

"This cause is particularly important to me because it deals with children — children healing from abuse, which turns into the most tragic, worst day of their lives," she said. "The child and the family start to begin the healing process from the services that are offered at the CPC and get help navigating the unique investigative process for the system to hold their abuser accountable. As officers of the law, myself and others on my team that work in our court and judicial system witness everyday how unresolved physical and sexual childhood trauma comes to a head later in life and presents itself in ugly ways such as substance abuse addictions, criminal behaviors, mental health issues, suicide and other sexual and physical abuse behaviors repeating the cycle."

Paxton said the CPC dedicates its time, efforts and resources to ending this cycle, sometimes working with children for years for the healing process to take effect.

This process and cause is why she and her other team members have banded together to help raise funds for CPC, she said.

Paxton said she encourages anyone in the area to come out to the Boats and Rows benefit luncheon on Friday to help support this center that serves children statewide.