02-08-12-mardi-gras.jpg“We’re going to party with a purpose,” Brandon Price says with a laugh when talking about the Find-A-Friend Program Spring Mardi Gras Ball. This is the third year for the Mardi Gras Ball, which benefi ts Fayetteville Urban Ministry’s Find-A-Friend Summer Camp. The ball is Saturday, Feb. 18, from 7 p.m. until midnight at the Holiday Inn Bordeaux.

“Expect a first-class event,” says Price, Find-A-Friend’s mentor coordinator. “It’s a black-tie event. We’re featuring the Methodist University Jazz Band. It’s an awesome jazz band. Later in the evening we’ll have a DJ. We’re going to have a good time.”

Find-A-Friend has been serving Cumberland County since 1982. The program works with at-risk youth through after school programming, intensive interpersonal-skills workshops and mentoring.

After the effort the children put into learning new life skills, summer is the time to have some fun and test what they’ve learned. Find–a-Friend mentors take them to local restaurants, the Asheboro zoo, the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, the planetarium in Chapel Hill, Fort Fisher Qquarium and The Climbing Place. “… and we do lots and lots of swimming,” said Price.

Life skills aren’t the only objective though. Life experience is also a goal. Price explains, “We recognize that some of our kids have never ordered off of a menu. When we take them to a sit-down restaurant, we’re teaching them how to order off of a menu and ask for things properly and use manners rather than yelling across the room. We are always in teach mode. We do things that they wouldn’t normally get to do.”

The talent show at the end of the summer is a way for the children to celebrate their new found poise and confidence. Price recounts the story of a young girl who arrived at Find-A-Friend with “no, not even low, self-esteem.” She hid her full figure behind gothic clothing. By the end of the summer, she was participating in the talent show in a red dress and heels. It brought her mother to tears.

Another young man came to Find-A-Friend as a high-risk 13-year-old. He was born to a very young mother who was struggling to raise her son. Through the support of Find-A-Friend, the young man graduated from high school and is now entering the military.

Find-A-Friend supports more than 200 children a year and about half of them attend the summer camp. With the help of the community, Price would like to see those numbers rise. The ticket price for the ball is the equivalent to paying for one child to go to summer camp. “Anytime that anyone donates to Urban Ministry or Find-A-Friend, those funds go directly back into our community. We are working with kids from this community. We have an open door policy. Anybody, at any time, can walk through our doors to see what we do and see what their money does,” Price says.

If you would prefer to work directly with the children, Find-A-Friend is always seeking mentors, especially male mentors. Price stresses, “It’s not a ‘their problem, their community’ issue — it’s our community. We all have a responsibility to give through time, talent or treasure. There is always a way you can get involved with Find-A-Friend.”

Mardi Gras Ball tickets are $50.00 per ticket or two tickets for $80.00 and can be purchased at the Find-A-Friend offi ce at 725 West Rowan St. Tickets can also be purchased via the telephone by calling 910.483.4661.

Photo: Fayetteville Urban Ministry hosts a Mardi-Gras party on Feb. 18 to raise money for the Find-a-Friend program.

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