'Team Whittany': Dad hopes to raise $100,000 in daughter's memory

by Sonja J. Keith

Jim Atkinson is recruiting volunteers for “Team Whittany” in hopes of raising $100,000 for the Soaring Wings Children’s Ranch in memory of his daughter, Whittany.

Friends and family of Whittany participated in the Soaring Wings Half Marathon last year in hopes of making her dream of helping children come true. 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. 

Last year was the first time for Jim to participate in an event like Soaring Wings. He raised $50,000 to help build an additional girls home at the ranch that will be named the Whittany Rae Atkinson Home.

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. Currently, there are two homes on the ranch – one for boys and one for girls – with construction of a new girls home and boys home under way.

“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 Andrew Watson, Soaring Wings founder and director. “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.”

According to Jim, there are already between 60-70 who have signed up for this year’s Team Whittany – runners and walkers as well as volunteers to staff a water stop. Three or four of those on the team have committed to raise $10,000 each, and Jim hopes to recruit a few more.

Jim’s training for last year’s event didn’t start until late summer. This year, he’s getting an earlier start and thinks he will be better prepared. Jim has found inspiration and encouragement from Mike Lefler, associate pastor at Central Baptist, who recently started running, and Jay Myers, whom he works with at Crain Buick GMC.

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.

Construction on the 5,800-square-foot house Whittany Atkinson has started. “It’s coming along pretty good,” Jim said, adding that the goal is to have the house completed by Nov. 10, the day before Whittany’s birthday.

“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 – made payable to The Whittany Rae Atkinson Home at SWR – 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.”