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Fundraiser gives CAC a boost
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Applebees manager Josh Holuska and Detective Heather Smith with the Great Bend Police Department search Saturday morning for items a community member bid on during the silent auction to benefit Great Bends Childrens Advocacy Center. Holuska chose the charity when he learned April is National Child Abuse and Prevention Awareness month. - photo by VERONICA COONS, Great Bend Tribune

Saturday morning, Applebees parking lot began to fill at 8 a.m. when winners of a silent auction held over the past few weeks arrived to pick up their treasures.  Sarah Schenek , director of the Children’s Advocacy Center, said the non-profit stands to receive around $12,000, at least three times as much as they anticipated when they learned they’d been chosen by Applebees as the local charity of choice.
“This came from out of the blue, and it has been absolutely amazing,” Sarah said.  “How often does a non-profit have something like this literally dropped in their lap?”
Josh Holuska, general manager of Applebees, said it didn’t take him long to decide where the proceeds would go when he learned he would be given the honor of choosing a local charity to support.  His first thought was to donate to the Family Crisis Center, and then he learned not only is April Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness month, but that the FCC had recently opened the CAC.
“We’re part of the community, and partnering to give back to the neighborhood is why we’re here today,” he said.  “It makes my heart warm to give back in this way.”
All of the items auctioned came from the walls of Great Bend’s Applebees store.  They included several framed photos, collectors items and memorabilia with a variety of themes.  There were framed posters of Marilyn Monroe, leather bull-whips ala Indiana Jones, framed jerseys and photos of local high school and college football teams, Kansas and western memorabilia, toy train boxcars, and even a carousel horse.  Only a few items were left on Saturday morning and winners had an opportunity to put in some last minute bids while they waited for volunteers to locate their winnings from among the 500 to 600 items donated.
Volunteers came from the local community.  Some law enforcement officials, like Detective Heather Smith, Great Bend Police Department, Robert Gunder, Claflin Police Department and Brad Potzner, Barton County Sheriffs Department were on hand, as were members of the Boone family, Chad and Stephanie Boone and son Devin.
“The Boones have been amazing volunteers,” Sarah said.  “They spent hours helping us unscrew all the items from the walls--they even closed their store, BassX, for a day to help.”
They were joined by members of the Barton Community College track team who helped pick up all items and move them to the Family Crisis Center.  Schenek’s husband, David, the track coach and Nigel Bigbee, assistant track coach arranged for the team’s help.  Two members of the track team are also servers at Applebees.  
“This project wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the track team members who worked tirelessly,” Shenek said.  BCC students Brien Berry, Rhashard Wright, David Berry, Kandace Thomas, Christian Black Jr., Jayten Sturnk and Matt McClure, as well as Kelsey Glynn all chipped in to unscrew the memorabilia from Applebee’s walls and transport them to the Family Crisis Center where it was stored until Saturday morning.  Several were on hand again Saturday to help with the pick up event.
Holuska said this is only one part of a major remodel which will be finished May 6.
“There have been a lot of rumors, but we are part of the neighborhood and we’re not going anywhere,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, customers and passersby will witness a transformation, as both the interior and exterior of the restaurant take on a fresh look.  All work will take place outside of regular business hours, Holuska said.  It will continue to operate from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
The new look will be localized to the community, he said.  He has been working with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce gathering several pictures of local events and landmarks, like the freedom ride, Panther football, car shows and drag races, oil rigs, etc.  In addition, the wallpaper will be a mural including different local events and landmarks too.  In addition, the bar will be rebuilt, and there will be new lighting, and outside the facing and awnings will be updated, as well as the parking lot and landscaping.  The finish date will also coincide with the introduction of the new spring menu, Holuska said.
Meanwhile, the funds raised from the silent auction will go to purchase some of the items on the CAC wish list.  Recently, a gift from the Fraternal Order of Police lodge 23 helped the center to purchase a family of dolls used in interviews.  Shenek and her assistant, Maggie Gregg, hoped to be able to expand the family to include dolls of other ethnic backgrounds.  This is only one of many ways the CAC will be able to proceed with its mission to help area children affected by violence and neglect to become whole once more.