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story.lead_photo.caption Brenda Neal Open Avenues executive director

Tell us about your organization:

• Mission: To open avenues of opportunity for people with disabilities by facilitating personal growth and attainment of vocational goals.


Who: Open Avenues

What: Hot air balloons, skydiving, helicopter rides, car show, kids’ zone, circus performers, a beer garden, live entertainment

When: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Aug. 24

Where: Drake Field in Fayetteville

Information: (479) 636-5082 or

• Services provided: Life skills training, job skills training, on-site employment, job placement, job coaching and transportation.

• Service area: Most of Benton County and parts of Washington County.

• Average number of people served annually: 150-plus

How is your organization's mission unique? We give our program participants a choice in the direction they take with their development. Whether they want to learn and advance at Open Avenues, or to work within the community, we are here to help them reach their goals.

Why do you work or volunteer for a nonprofit organization? Do you have a personal connection to the mission? If so, what is it? When I began my career in the 1970s as a speech pathologist, I worked in programs that had both children and adults with disabilities. I felt the adults were being treated the same as the children. They were more capable than people gave them credit for and deserved services more appropriate for adults.

What part of your job fills the most of your time? The unexpected. Each day I bring a long list of "to dos" and rarely get past the first thing on my list. Lately, I find I spend a lot of time reading new regulations, writing legislators,and fighting to keep funding that is evaporating.

What have you learned on the job that you didn't expect? How the staff and participants become like family. Our environment and culture promote that. I now list that as one of the perks of working at Open Avenues.

What challenges face your organization? Like most nonprofits, inadequate funding is one of our biggest challenges. Each year, we're expected to do more with less.

Are there volunteer opportunities in your organization? What are they? We always need volunteers with volunteer opportunities revolving around event planning and execution. We are actively seeking volunteers now to help with our Aug. 24 fundraising event, SOAR NWA.

What upcoming fundraisers and/or other events does your organization have planned? We are really excited for our inaugural SOAR NWA event on Aug. 24 at Drake Field. We have a fun-filled day planned that will include hot air balloons, skydiving, helicopter rides, a car show, a kids' zone, circus performers, a beer garden, live entertainment and a lot more. We wanted to create a fundraiser that was not only unique but would also appeal to the masses. We're really pleased with how the community has embraced this idea. Admission tickets are only $10 for adults and $5 for children 10 and younger. We've sold more than 2,000 tickets already and anticipate more than 5,000 on the day of the event. Visit for the event and entertainment schedules, to buy tickets and to volunteer!

While the hot air balloons were the inspiration behind this event, we want spectators to know they are extremely reliant on weather conditions being optimal in order to fly. Even in the most perfect conditions, they won't be up in the middle of the day. The only opportunity to see them fly will be at sunrise. We also hope to have tethered rides available for the public until 10 a.m., and then again beginning at 6 p.m., if the weather allows for it. In addition, we're planning for an 8 p.m. balloon glow that will be the highlight of the event. The middle of the day will be packed with many other activities that will appeal to the masses.

NAN Profiles on 08/11/2019

Print Headline: Personified

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