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Kentucky Derby party promises fun for a worthy cause

By By Autumn D.F. Hopkins
Staff writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This time of year, the Kentucky Derby is a much anticipated event for horse racing fans around the globe. But if you can’t make the drip to Churchill Downs, you might want to try Charleston’s answer to the equestrian fan’s dream: the ninth annual Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center’s Kentucky Derby fundraiser.

The event will take place at 5 p.m. Saturday in the Charleston Marriott Town Center Pavilion.

The party will include a simulcast of the race, Kentucky Derby-themed heavy hors d’oeuvres — such as bourbon balls and hot rounds — a cash bar featuring mint juleps, friendly faux-money horse wagering and table games provided by the Optimist Club.

The nonprofit Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center provides services for those at risk of homelessness in the Kanawha Valley. Roark-Sullivan development director Cathy Matheny said this is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year and that they expect about 300 people to be in attendance.

Although the event is all about fun and fundraising, Roark-Sullivan CEO Alex Alston wants the community to know just what they are supporting.

“Through education, housing and various training, we help people become self-sufficient in the community,” Alston said. And the need for their services is great. The center has 102 beds in five facilities in Kanawha County.

“People know us as the men’s emergency shelter,” Alston explained. “They don’t know what else is there and what services we provide. Last night we had 110 people in those 102 beds. That is over and above capacity. Those are people who, if we didn’t exist, would have been on the street last night.”

But, he went on to say, the center isn’t just about having a place to crash for the night.

“People look at a shelter and they think of a shelter as just a bed. They’ve seen it in a movie and they have this conception of a shelter as just a place to sleep. They don’t understand exactly what we do. It is very different from the traditional shelter model. People have a bed — it is theirs. They have a locker for their things. They’re working towards becoming independent.”

The Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center offers myriad programs that can help with everything from the small to the seemingly insurmountable. They strive to help people be able to, once again, function independently in society.

“The goal is not just ‘a hot and a cot,’” Matheny said. “We want to get them to transition back into a supporting member of society. We want to help these people be able to maintain a stable lifestyle. We’re setting people up with a home base, giving them somewhere to grow from.”

“All of programs start from outreach and work through permanent housing,” Alston said. “Our veterans service center is open for vets in the community, whether they are homeless or not. Services can be anything from as simple as a cup of coffee or a shower, somewhere to do laundry, up to support groups on budgeting and family relationships. We have a computer lab where they can do job applications and résumés. There are a lot of good opportunities there, a lot of case management and support. Not just a place to crash,” Alston said.

“Ideally we’ll put ourselves out of work,” he added. “We want to be so successful that no one needs our services.”

Saturday’s event will go a long way toward funding those services.

The evening will be hosted by Jim Strawn and DJ’d by Coach Kidd of Electric 102.

There will be a silent auction with gift baskets including sports memorabilia, restaurant gift certificates and golf accessories.

There will be prizes awarded for the best hat and for the evening’s “high roller” at the table games. The event promises to provide lots of fun and excitement for the attendees while helping to provide a much-needed service in the community.

To purchase tickets or for more information about the programs offered at Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center, email or call 681-205-8920.


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