There’s something special about kids opening presents. Their eyes sparkle. There’s anticipation, excitement, and simple joy. All followed by crumpled-up wrapping paper and squeals of delight! That’s the magic Jalen Catalon recently brought to the children at the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter, Bentonville, as part of the Holiday Toy Drive at America’s Car-Mart.
Jalen was honored to shop for toys and deliver them to the center for an entertaining afternoon with 15 teen-agers. They enjoyed conversation and a spirited gift exchange. [More toys from Jalen and Car-Mart are saved for opening on Christmas Day].
“It’s always rewarding and fun to deliver toys to kids. And doing anything to lift their spirits is always extra special during the holiday season,” says Jalen, ambassador for America’s Car-Mart and a redshirt junior safety for the University of Arkansas football team. [Jalen has a name, image & likeness (NIL) agreement with Car-Mart]. “I am thrilled to be a part of Car-Mart’s toy drive and help out in any way I can.”
Before the gift sharing, Jalen was peppered with questions about what’s it like to be a football player and college student, as well as his favorite color and motivation. He offered words of encouragement and shared his motto – ‘risk nothing, gain nothing’ from the movie, “Purple Heart.”
Jalen added that “no matter how dark it may seem, there’s always light. So, trust in that.” He stated that playing football is life changing, and he’s grateful for the opportunity.
It’s all about the kids
“To help kids who are living with uncertainty, it’s gratifying to put a smile on their faces. It humbles me to help them and make a difference,” Jalen says. “It’s important to let these kids know someone is thinking about them, and hopefully, that gives them a sense of hope.”
“We are so excited to have the support of Jalen and Car-Mart during this holiday season. The holidays are a difficult time for the youth in our care,” says Kate Lunsford, Community Engagement Director, Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter. “It is only with the generous support of the Northwest Arkansas community that we can make Christmas magical for them. It was such a treat for the kids to meet Jalen, who serves as a positive role model for kids throughout Arkansas.”
It’s all about community
“This world is so much take, take, take, instead of give, give, give. And I want to give back,” says Jalen about the importance of volunteering and helping others. “I want to do all I can to help.”
Jalen was introduced to the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter during a persuasion class at college. He’s spent time with the students – talking, playing games, fishing – just being a friend.
“These are moments I’ll never forget,” he says. “The kids are happy to be with each other. Knowing that these kids don’t get this attention. And just seeing the nature of it all is amazing. It’s about giving them a little hope, a moment they won’t forget.”
The Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter provides a safe place of healing and hope for children who have suffered the trauma of abandonment, abuse, or neglect. The Shelter operates a school on-site for children in Pre-K through 12th grade. It is the only children’s shelter in Arkansas to offer on-site education.
The Shelter is still accepting donations for sharing with their children this holiday season. Please visit nwacs.org/needs for a current needs list. The Shelter is located at 860 NW Vaughn Road, Bentonville, Ark.