When a story starts with "Once upon a time ..." it generally ends with "happily ever after."
It's the journey in between that makes up the real tale, and at United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), the goal is to help people with disabilities and their families with that middle part, to help them get their own happily ever after.
"I think that's what our overall theme of the organization is," says board member Amy Green. "Even though you might have some difficult things in life, you can overcome those and have a good life."
It's that theme that gave a name to the organization's big annual fundraiser: Once Upon a Time, taking place this year on Sept. 25.
The name UCP itself is a bit misleading, Green says.
"We actually serve a lot of different types of disabilities. Sixty-five percent of our service recipients have a disability other than cerebral palsy."
The services are wide-ranging and diverse to help a variety of clients. Services start at six weeks. The oldest participant turned 81 this summer.
UCP offers day care and day facilities as well as residential care for people who need a supervised place to live. All clients have access to physical, speech and occupational therapies, with the therapy staff customizing care plans to fit each person's need.
"UCP really prides itself on never turning away a family because their case was maybe too difficult," Green says.
There is also special training for jobs and for independent living. UCP operates several businesses, such as the Gone for Good shredding company and a recycling center that provide employment for UCP clients and also help the environment.
"Those types of opportunities our clients are so excited about because it gives them a sense of pride in making their own money."
It's not all work. There are also fun programs such as painting or special holiday events like the Valentine's Day dance, complete with makeovers from a local salon.
"It's just things like that that make our service recipients excited about coming," Green says. "Just having a place that's their place."
All of this is to help families and individuals, as Green puts it, "live a life without limits."
"That's our motto and everybody who works here really believes in that."
It's a subject close to Green's heart. Growing up in Newport close to her extended family, she spent a lot of time with her Aunt Betty, who has cerebral palsy.
"We grew up seeing them on a weekly basis and seeing some of the things she struggled with."
At the time her aunt was growing up, UCP was just starting in the state and, in rural Newport, "there weren't a lot of therapies and opportunities available to my grandparents to help her get a good start."
While her aunt now lives in Cabot and is "doing great" with the support of family, Green says, "I feel like if she'd had access to the kind of things UCP offers now, she could have had so many more opportunities growing up that would have helped her in adulthood."
So, in 2004, when Green met people from UCP through the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce's young professionals group, she was immediately interested and started to get involved, eventually joining the board.
She has been helping plan the Once Upon a Time fundraiser for six years and, this year, she's the event chairman.
For the most part, it will be the same event it has been, with auctions, wine raffle, heavy hors d'oeuvres, drinks, music and a short program.
This year, though, they have a new venue: Robinson Center.
"There haven't been a lot of events there yet for people to get tired of it," Green says. "We're really excited about that backdrop of the river."
They're also particularly excited about their amped-up auctions. The silent auction features everything from jewelry and cases of Thin Mints to a "crazy unicorn basket."
They expect things to get very exciting at the live auction, which will include some bidding war-worthy experiences such as a chance to see Elton John's farewell tour, a stay in Chicago to see Hamilton and a ride-along with North Little Rock Police Chief Mike Davis.
The real excitement, though, comes from what has become an annual tradition: the auctioning off of a Willie Oates hat. Oates, famed for her elaborate headpieces, was a longtime UCP board member and, after her death in 2008, her family donated a collection of hats to UCP. UCP has auctioned off one each year ever since.
"The person who gets it, it's like they've won the lottery," Green says. "It's this rare piece of Arkansas history."
They're down to their last three hats now and Green says she hopes UCP will hold onto one for old time's sake.
"It's beautiful that even in her passing, she's still giving."
Green promises they limit the program to a short video but there will be other opportunities for people to see what UCP is about. People from University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College's 3D Program will be there to tell guests how they train people with disabilities for jobs in the culinary and hospitality field.
And guests can get a firsthand taste of how that works thanks to a special dessert from Flavours, a restaurant dedicated to hiring people with disabilities.
Also, Green says, "We always have some clients that come to our event and enjoy it just like everybody else because that's what we want. They can come out and meet some people and see exactly where their money is going."
Money raised at Once Upon a Time goes to the general operating fund and the "Family Fund," which is used to fill emergency needs that can't be funded by other means.
Anyone who's interested in learning more about UCP and its services is always welcome to tour its facilities.
People might meet the woman from North Little Rock, a Michael Jackson superfan who is always eager to sing any Jackson song. Or the young woman from northeast Arkansas who works at the recycling center, thrilled to have a job and to be able to live on her own.
Green, in particular, remembers the first time she toured the Butterfly Learning Center preschool.
"It's beautiful and humbling to see these teachers working with kids on things that we sometimes take for granted. Just taking time to enjoy the small victories and meet them where they are. To see them just be happy, it really teaches you something about being happy in life and what you can do to help."
Once Upon a Time is 6:30-9:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at Robinson Center Ballroom, 426 W. Markham St., Little Rock. Tickets are $100. Call (501) 906-4507 or visit ucpark.org.
United Cerebral Palsy board member Amy Green models a hat once owned by philanthropist Willie Oates, who was known for her flamboyant headpieces. UCP will auction off another of Oates’ hats on Sept. 25 at Once Upon a Time. Oates died in 2008.
High Profile on 09/16/2018
Print Headline: Once Upon a Time fundraiser supports United Cerebral Palsy