A group of volunteers raised more than $5,500 to help support Conway Human Development Center employees in their time of need.

The center's volunteer council sponsored a benefit dinner Saturday that included live music and featured County Judge Jim Baker as the event's guest speaker.

Melissa Boyce, who works in volunteer services at CHDC, said the inaugural event was a success and that she hopes to see more faces next year as the volunteer council continues working to improve the lives of CHDC's employees.

The benevolence fund is set in place for employees who find themselves in a financial crisis or are facing a family emergency and need extra assistance. Proceeds from Saturday's event will directly benefit CHDC's staff members and their families who have found themselves in a time of need.

Judge Baker said he is thankful for the work CHDC does and also pointed out the center has a large number of employees.

"CHDC, from what I understand and what I know of, is one of the top two in Faulkner County in employees. You rival [the University of Central Arkansas] back and forth," he said, noting these numbers show the center not only does well to serve its residents, but also provides a steady income for the county. "You're a heck of an economic driving force in Faulkner County with well over $100 million annually that you provide Faulkner County. Folks, that's huge for our county. Your mission ... there's no question to that — your mission is to serve young and old that can't serve themselves, and it's a blessing."

The event was held at the Hilton Garden Inn on Amity Road, and many attendees showed their appreciation and support through "love donations" and by bidding on items in the silent auction to help raise money for the benevolence fund. At the end of the night, Boyce said the event brought in more than $5,500 for CHDC employees.

"We just wanted to say thank you, everybody, for coming out and to all our sponsors for being here," she said as the event drew to an end Saturday night. "Everybody who has had to use this fund appreciates everything that y'all have done."

While she was unable to attend the event, Sarah Murphy, the center's superintendent, left a note that was read aloud by Elizabeth Molica to remind staff members of her appreciation for all they do for CHDC's residents and also to say thank you for those donating at Saturday's event.

"Please know how grateful I am that you all are here and that you care about the CHDC employees and want to assist them when they are facing catastrophic situations that sometimes appears to be hopeless," Molica said on Murphy's behalf. "CHDC employees are second to none. They give up themselves everyday to take care of others who cannot take care of themselves."

At the front of the room were two featured stories written by employees who were positively affected by the benevolence fund when they were faced with personal struggles.

"The donation I received from the benevolence fund couldn't have come at a better time," employee Anglia Hillenberg wrote of her appreciation. "It was definitely a Godsend and helped my family out immensely. It made it possible for my family to be with my son during his final days and moments."

Hillenberg's son was admitted into the Arkansas Children's Hospital in November 2016. He was 15 years old.

She said she took off time from work to spend time with her son and make memories with him while she still could, noting he had acute kidney failure and the beginning stages of heart failure.

It was a tough, tragic time. However, she said she was thankful for the support of CHDC's employees and for the donation she received during this rough patch to be able to spend time with her family.

"Without the donation from the benevolence fund, I wouldn't have gotten to make the memories that I did or to spend time with my son during his last days/moments," Hillenberg said. "I pray this fund continues to stay active for a long time."

Carrie Wilkerson's story was also featured at the head of the event space.

Wilkerson shared the tragedy her family faced when the found themselves with nothing following a house fire in January 2014. She and her family were headed to visit her mother-in-law who was in the hospital when they got the call that their home was up in flames. By the time they arrived, the house was completely engulfed in flames.

"Our home was a total loss due to the fire. We were left only with the vehicle we were in and the clothes on our backs," she said. "We were grateful that we hadn't been there and no one was injured."

The benevolence fund proved to be a blessing for Wilkerson and her family in their time in need. She said she hopes the CHDC Volunteer Council is able to continue providing aid to the center's employees when they find themselves struggling through this fund.