Harrison County

How Brittney Reese, George H.W. Bush and bow ties are helping abused children

A selection of the bow ties worn or displayed Friday at the second annual Bowties & Beignets + Bacon fundraiser to benefit the Harrison County Emergency Children’s Shelter.
A selection of the bow ties worn or displayed Friday at the second annual Bowties & Beignets + Bacon fundraiser to benefit the Harrison County Emergency Children’s Shelter. calee@sunherald.com

An autographed bow tie and presidential cuff links from former President George H.W. Bush auctioned for $1,500, while autographed Nikes like the ones Brittney Reese wore at the Olympics fetched $400 at the second annual Bow Ties & Beignets + Bacon fundraiser Friday morning for the Harrison County Emergency Children’s Shelter.

Organizers said this year’s event will more than double first-year contributions, with more than $30,000 raised before auction proceeds had been counted.

The shelter is a little-publicized charity, partly because of the nature of its work. Each year, the shelter in Gulfport houses 300 to 350 children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, and children who have run away from home.

Privacy concerns limit publicity, District Attorney Joel Smith said in his keynote speech to the crowd of 330 at the Island View Tower Hotel.

“For me, the children’s shelter is one of the highest and best that represents our charitable organizations,” Smith said. “ . . . If there is any organization that plays a more vital role, I haven’t seen it.”

Bow-tie aficionados R. Lee Flowers and Chad Riemann came up with the idea for the fundraiser and volunteers in and out of Gulfport City Hall have worked to make it a success.

This year, children at the shelter hand-painted bow ties framed in shadow boxes placed at each of the 30 tables. Attendees clamored to buy the boxes for $150 each. There was a silent auction in addition to the big-ticket items hawked by Mayor Billy Hewes, volunteer auctioneer and comic.

New bedding is one of the plans for the money raised. The shelter has 24 beds and nine cribs.

Long Beach residents Billy and Ellen Alexander, who attended the event, know firsthand how important the shelter’s work is. They volunteer with Court-Appointed Special Advocates in Harrison County, advocating for abused or neglected children caught up in the court system.

They said one of the children with whom they work was removed from his home because his grandfather had sexually abused him from the time the boy was five years old until he turned seven. The boy saw adults abusing drugs and witnessed the rape of his mother, they said.

The Alexanders met the boy when he was 7 years old. Over four years, they said, he has been placed in about 14 locations, from mental hospitals to foster homes. The Alexanders have been a constant through it all, showing up wherever he is sent. They take him on outings. He loves to fish.

“It’s been a long haul,” Ellen Alexander said. “Everything that could happen to him has happened to him. But you can see the sweet child within him.

“The anger is still there. You’ve got to dig deep to see the sweet side.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99

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