Kris Allen has been performing long before he became an American Idol.
Through high school and college, Allen served as a peer presenter at one of Choosing to Excel’s spinoff organizations in Little Rock called Abstinence by Choice, said Choosing to Excel Executive Director Thelma Moton.
Moton said the first spinoff was established at Joe T Robinson High School in Little Rock.
"Kris along with his brother and several others were part of a Youth Leaders Team," she said. "They would go in and share their choices. They were peer presenters in the Little Rock and Jacksonville schools back when he was in high school."
Allen will be the featured performer in Choosing to Excel’s eighth annual fundraising event: An Evening with the Stars Conway’s Got Talent Saturday night.
"We’re excited that he’s going to come back and serve the parent organization," Moton said.
Although Moton’s not sure if Allen realizes Choosing to Excel was the parent organization of Abstinence by Choice, she’s excited to hear his memories when she talks to him before the event.
"We’re thrilled that he sees a need because we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get him," Moton said. "We’ve never had someone of his stature and reputation before."
Choosing to Excel has one fundraiser a year, and the proceeds of the ticket sales go toward funding the organizations many programs.
Excel operates on the generosity of a few donors, one fundraising event and various funding sources that are paired with specific programs such as the teen parenting program, which is partially funded through the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
Moton said it’s important for funding sources to match the organizations’ mission.
"I’m like an eagle’s eye always looking for where that match is because I don’t want to just chase dollars," Moton said. "We want to make sure the funding fits who we are. We want to make sure our funding fits our mission."
There are several core programs that are currently underfunded including children of incarcerated parents, interventions for teen parents and Choosing to Excel’s summer program.
"We have one group that really needs a heavy dose of intervention, and these are children of incarcerated parents," Moton said. "These are victims, unintended victims not by choice."
Moton said this extra mentor program is where Choosing to Excel needs the most support because the funding for an extra program is nonexistent, and in addition to financial support the program needs mentors for these children.
"We need the community support here because you’re either going to pay now with time and investing a little bit," she said, "or you’re going to pay with them being incarcerated some place or you’re going to pay with them being single parents in the cycle of poverty."
For teen mothers and fathers, Excel partners with Healthy Families of Arkansas. The programs current funding focus is on newborn home visiting programs for pregnant and parenting teens. The visits begin prenatally and continue until a child’s third year providing education and skills training.
The program can currently serve 40 teen parents a year, Moton said.
In an effort to reduce teen pregnancy, through a partnership with Conway Regional, Choosing to Excel sends young men and women home with electronic babies to show them the amount of responsibility it takes to raise a child, Moton said, and how it can set you up for a cycle of poverty.
Many of the babies were broken, and the organization didn’t have the money needed to repair them, but a member of the community volunteered their time and skills to support the program.
"We had a precious volunteer who came in with her precious technological skills and repair some of those babies, so they’re still in operation," Moton said.
The goal is to reduce the number of teen and out of wed births. In a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, Arkansas had the highest teen birth rate in the country with 51 out of 1,000 teens giving birth.
Excel programs are in every school district in Faulkner County except for the Guy Perkins School District. Due to a lack of funding, the program could not continue.
Kimberly-Clark has provided diapers, wipes and money to buy new car seats for teen parents.
There was a principal a few years ago who said, ‘I see Excel as the hidden curricula,’" Moton said. "’It’s because of what you guys provide for our students, it enables us as educators to do a better job.’"
Moton said she has seen attendance records improve, behavior improve and grades improve.
"It’s because someone has shared with that child that they matter," she said.
Moton said because of the hidden curricula Excel provides, it enables the school to better implement their curricula.
"If we can come alongside and help them with the issues they’re working through to lessen whatever it takes to help them academically it’s a great partnership," Moton said, "and that’s what we’ve got to fight for to figure out where we can partner for the betterment of our students and families."
An Evening with the Stars Conway’s Got Talent begins at 6 p.m. with a silent auction including cosmetic dentistry, a month of jazzercise and a weekend in Branson, Mo. among items being auctioned. The show begins at 6:30 p.m. at James H. Clark Auditorium at Conway High School.
Tickets can be purchased for $30 by calling the Excel office at 501-505-8590. Student tickets are $15. Seating is limited. A $1 raffle ticket for the opportunity to perform with Allen on stage will be sold at the event.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)