A labor of love

by Sonja J. Keith

Family and friends recently celebrated the life of Whittany Rae Atkinson at the new girls’ home dedicated in her memory at Soaring Wings Christian Home and Ranch.

(Angie Davis photos)

About 300 friends and family attended the private dedication of the Whittany Rae Atkinson Home for Girls hosted by the Atkinson and Young families. The dedication included music performed by family members. The Rev. Don Chandler of Central Baptist Church also spoke and offered a prayer of dedication.

Whittany – the youngest daughter of Jim and Carol Atkinson of Conway – was critically injured in a four-wheeler accident July 16, 2011, during a family gathering near Petit Jean Mountain. The 16-year-old was taken by air ambulance to a Little Rock hospital where she died the next day.

Located on 195 acres in the Holland community, Soaring Wings provides a Christian home to young people in difficult situations who need a chance to grow up in a loving, Christ-centered home.

The Atkinson family was approached by ranch founder and director Andrew Watson about naming a second girls home on the campus in memory of Whittany. “When we heard about Whittany’s love and concern for hurting children and about her desire for her parents to adopt, we knew we had to name the next girls home after her,” said Watson.

“Whittany also had a mature faith for such a young girl, and we desire to teach our girls through Whittany’s example that Jesus loves them, and that because life is brief we need to accept His gift of salvation while we can. That’s the mission of SWR, and who better to teach that to young girls who come our way than Whittany?

“Her story will be told for years to come.”

Jim and Carol Atkinson.

The family has taken an active role in raising funds for the home, with Team Whittany organized the last two years for the Soaring Wings Half Marathon. The half marathon and the family’s involvement at Soaring Wings have provided a positive outlet for the family. Jim said while there are down times, the family is “making it okay.”

“It has focused my energy on something positive,” he said.

Whittany’s older sister, Brittany Atkinson, has also gone to work at Soaring Wings as the business manager. She also worked on the interiors of both homes.

“Brittany did a phenomenal job of picking the décor for both of the homes,” Watson said. “She has a knack for colors and décor.”

The 5,800-square-foot girls home – as well as the new Love Boys Home at the ranch – have been completed and will soon be occupied, according to Watson. The children currently residing at the ranch are expected to move into the new homes after the first of the year to allow for minor renovation/upkeep to the existing boys and girls homes. Watson explained that after five and a half years of normal wear and tear it seemed appropriate for the minor repairs.

Watson said the formal open house for the new homes is scheduled in April, when the ranch typically has an open house.

Watson said Brittany’s relationship made the project special. “It’s special building a home but more special for her because of that relationship.”

Andrew noted that the staff made some design changes to the new homes based on their experience with the first two houses. For example, a mud room has been added and the beds have been built rather than purchased, making them more functional and durable.

The ranch is still accepting financial contributions to help with the furnishings for the new homes. In addition, the ranch will have to buy two new vans to accommodate the additional homes. “Donations will be greatly appreciated,” Watson said.

Soaring Wings is already looking for houseparents to accommodate the additional two homes on the ranch. Watson anticipates that new residents will be accepted around March.

“Whittany had a heart for children who found themselves in need of a home,” Jim said. “Although Whittany had a loving family who adored her, we have come to realize there are many children who will never know what real love is.”

Tax deductible donations can be mailed to Soaring Wings Ranch, P.O. Box 1670, Conway, AR 72033. For additional information, visit swranch.org or rememberingwhittany.com.

“Our family would like to help provide a ‘Rae’ of hope for young girls who have no hope or very little hope in this complicated world,” Jim said. “I’m doing it for a worthwhile cause in honor of my little girl who will get her dream of adopting a child.”