In October 1985, a group of concerned citizens met to address the growing problem of child abuse and neglect in central Arkansas. This group, made up of law enforcement officials, judges, school counselors and human service professionals, became known as The Lonoke County Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, Inc. After conducting a needs assessment, the Task Force found that the greatest need was a shelter for victims of abuse and neglect because Lonoke County had very few foster homes. Shelters in the state for children were consistently full and often had waiting lists. Unfortunately, some children in Lonoke County were at times, actually placed in the Lonoke County jail until a foster home, placement with a suitable relative or other placement could be found.

On September 15, 1986, Hillary Clinton cut the ribbon officially opening Open Arms Shelter in Lonoke. Open Arms Shelter is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and still operates under the umbrella of The Lonoke County Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, Inc.

Open Arms Shelter began serving children in a small older house that was located at 203 East Fourth Street in Lonoke. The annual operating budget in 1986 was $25,000 and had one full-time set of house parents. Funding was unavailable for new programs from the Department of Human Services at the time of its beginning.

Open Arms Shelter began as a group foster home with an eight-bed capacity and received $7 dollars a day for each foster child served. From 1986 until 1994, the Task Force and its staff provided temporary shelter to approximately 50 children a year from across the state. Because of the limited funding, Open Arms Shelter relied very heavily on community support and involvement. Most of those connections are still active today.

In November 1994, the shelter moved from the little house on East Fourth Street into an old nursing home located approximately five miles east of Lonoke on Highway 70. With more space, Open Arms Shelter was able to increase the number of children served at one given time. In 1994, Open Arms Shelter contracted with the Department of Human Services to provide emergency shelter services to foster children statewide. The Staff at Open Arms Shelter grew to five well-trained members. One had a Masters degree and the staff had a combined number of over 50 years experience working with children.The annual budget grew from $25,000 to $225,000.

In October 2002, Open Arms Shelter moved into a new 6,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility. It is located at 1500 Navajo Trail in Lonoke. Children could reside at Open Arms Shelter for 45 days. Open Arms Shelter was, and still is, one of the few emergency shelters in the state that accept children under the age of eight, teenage mothers with their children and large sibling groups.

Licensed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services' Child Care Facility Review Board as an emergency residential facility, our current staff cared for up to 12 children at any given time for up to 45 days before August, 2010.

Due to the increasing numbers of child abuse and neglect in Arkansas and recognizing the need to mentor teens for a longer period of time and tach them independent living skills and equipping them with the tools they need to succeed in adult life, a new 7,000 square foot wing was added in August, 2010. Now, under the direction of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, a child may stay with us until the age of 18 or even beyond if they are pursuing further education.

Children come to our facility from every imaginable type of crisis. It is not unusual for a child to hide food because they have grown accustomed to not knowing when or where their next meal will come. Many times a child to arrive in tears because of their tragic situation and then leave us in tears because Open Arms Shelter was truly the only caring environment they have ever experienced. Their stay with Open Arms Shelter may provide the basis of hope that will stay wit them and positively influence them for a lifetime.

In addition to a room, the children receive three home-cooked meals a day, snacks and around the clock supervision by our highly experienced staff. The children attend public school, receive individualized behavior instruction and management plus receive instruction on basic life skills.

Children attend public school in Lonoke, participate in weekly educational or recreational outings, have volunteered their time in the local community (nursing home and soup kitchen), and are encouraged to attend church with our staff on Sunday.

Our staff receives numerous cards of appreciation from former residents, thankful for the care, kindness, and attention they were shown during their time of crisis. We have even had former residents that would ask for us by name during their next crisis situation. And, some adults who received care from our staff return to visit the staff.

Open Arms is opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We serve as a stepping stone for children awaiting placement with suitable relatives or foster homes. When the Arkansas Department of Health Services cannot find permanent placement, the children can stay with us until they reach adulthood. Our staff mentors these children in need of long-term guidance and training towards independent living skills. We believe that by mentoring teenagers and teaching them independent living skills such as how to establish a household budget, pay bills and apply for grants and scholarships to their choice of either a college or vocational school we can better equip them to succeed in adult life.

Thanks to the tireless efforts and generosity of many, we are currently able to provide emergency and long-term care to 24 children at any one given time. Due to state cutbacks and funding, the Arkansas Department of Health has awarded a contract to Open Arms Shelter for only 15 of the 24 beds with partial funding on the remaining nine beds. All of the beds are desperately needed. Our beds are seldom, if ever, empty. We hope to increase the number of beds in our July 2015 contract.

Open Arms Shelter is governed by a 15-member volunteer board and is audited annually by the respected CPA's of Ellis, Tucker & Aldridge in Cabot, Arkansas. All donations are tax-deductible.