Pair Fired Up About Our House
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Meghan Collins was worried her goosebumps would show.
You’d think the Michigan native would be used to goosebumps, but not in early spring – not in Arkansas. A pollen-busting storm had just swept through a couple of weeks ago when Meghan and her husband, Andrew, arrived at downtown Little Rock’s historic Terry House for their High Profile photo shoot.
Andrew was snugly decked out in a natty navy blue sports coat, seersucker trousers and white bucks. Meghan’s sleeveless, pleated summer dress vainly struggled against the chill. Ah, fickle Mother Nature.
It may have been only 48 degrees that morning, but that won’t be the case when more than 500 friends of Our House gather Fri-day at the Terry House for the shelter’s eighth annual Dinner on the Grounds fundraiser the Collinses are chairing.
The duo were dressed to illustrate the event’s suggested attire – “festive spring casual” – and to highlight this year’s theme: Hope in Bloom. It may have been on the cool side, but the Terry House azaleas were already in full flower, as were the roses in the Butterfly Garden. Come Friday evening, heaps of hope will be blooming as well.
The affable couple, married since September, first met as children at the Lake Michigan resort community of Ludington, where their families have summer vacation homes.
“There are a lot of families from Little Rock that go up there,” Andrew said. “I guess we knew each other from before we even remembered it. I’ve always known Meghan. She was very popular and friendly with everybody.”
Over the years, summer friendship bloomed into something deeper, and after “doing the long-distance thing” for a while, the Michigan girl headed south a couple of years ago.
“It’s crazy that two years have gone by,” Meghan, a typesetter and sales associate at The Social Type stationery shop on Kavanaugh Boulevard, said. “I still tell people I just moved here because I still feel new to the South.”
New to the South. New marriage. New home. New friends.
That’s a lot of newness for a busy young couple, but it didn’t stop Meghan and Andrew, the chief operating officer at Cypress Properties, from tackling co-chairmen chores for Dinner on the Grounds.
Although coordinating supper for a small army sounds daunting, Andrew said it’s not at all like herding cats.
“The support staff is really great at Our House,” he said. “They’ve been doing [the dinner] for eight years, so they have a sense of what works.”
Great support frees Andrew and Meghan to concentrate on other details of the evening.
“We have to do everything from getting sponsorships to planning the menu and decorations. There’s a fair amount to it,” Andrew said.
“And coordinating volunteers,” Meghan added about their other main responsibility. “Our House is such a great organization, people are willing to lend a helping hand if they can, even financially.”
Especially financially. The dinners usually raise more than $100,000, with proceeds largely responsible for the success of the eight-week summer youth program, when more than 90 homeless or near-homeless children come to the shelter while school’s out. In addition, Our House recently announced it has raised $4 million to build a Children’s Center that will allow the children’s program to expand. Construction begins May 9.
Executive director Georgia Mjartan thanked the more than 350 donors, and noted that the new facility “will have a positive impact in the lives of thousands of children and families over the coming years.”
“There’s a lot going on,” Andrew said. “It’s a dynamic time to be associated with Our House. I think that’s what drew us. It’s not just the same old prescriptions. It’s an approach that blends compassion and personal responsibility and is out there in the community pressing hard to solve the problems.”
“It really is a total program,” Meghan emphasized.
“Before there were organizations like this,” Andrew said, “it was families helping families. I think it’s a good thing.”
“What distinguishes Our House is it offers education, job training, child care, housing support, as well as shelter and a hot meal. So, when people take advantage of Our House, they’re taking advantage of a whole range of offerings. It’s a comprehensive program, not just a roof over people’s heads,” he said.
Past dinners held at the Governor’s Mansion have sold out, and Andrew noted the event has outgrown that venue.
“We’re excited to have it at Terry House,” Meghan added. “There’s that beautiful lawn, and it’ll be great now that we can seat 600 or 700 people.”
For the dinner, the Collinses have cooked up more to augment the Hope in Bloom theme.
“The Kentucky Derby is the same weekend,” Andrew said, “so we’re going to pull in some decorative elements and maybe some surprises dealing with the Derby.”
There will be no surprises on the traditional Southern menu – catfish with the usual side dishes. The catered dinner from the Ben E. Keith Co. will be complemented by “cool, flavorful libations” donated by Glazer’s Distributors.
Rocking the lawn will be something extra – the “jazz fusion, R&B, Motown and blues” sounds of the popular local band Lagniappe.
Dinner on the Grounds is Friday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. with supper served at sunset. Individual tickets are $150, and that provides two weeks of the summer program for one child.Tickets can be bought online at ourhouseshelter.org or dinneronthegrounds.com. Or ordered by phone at (501) 374-7383, Extension 228.