This article was published November 20, 2016 at 2:25 a.m.
PHOTO BY JOHN SYKES JR.
Downtown Little Rock Kiwanis Club member Gabe Mallard has volunteered and raised money for the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp since 2007. The camp serves at-risk third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from three central Arkansas school districts.
Lawyer Gabe Mallard of the Downtown Little Rock Kiwanis Club volunteers his time and support to children who attend the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp. “...
Growing up, Gabe Mallard never went to summer camp. Maybe that's why the 40-year-old Little Rock lawyer has such a fondness for the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp.
On a textbook autumn morning at the woodsy grounds of the camp on Ferndale Cutoff Road in west Pulaski County, Mallard, dressed in a sharp blue suit and plaid tie, talked enthusiastically about his work with the camp and the Downtown Little Rock Kiwanis Club, which founded Pfeifer Camp in 1929.
It was quiet that morning, but in the weeks before, 33 fifth-graders took classes while living at Pfeifer Camp on school days. Their stay culminated in a graduation ceremony with their families and Pfeifer staff earlier this month.
The students were part of the camp's Alternative Classroom Experience (ACE) program, designed for at-risk third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from the Little Rock School District, the Pulaski County Special School District and the Jacksonville North Pulaski School District. Four five-week sessions of the ACE program are held at the camp during the school year.
"It could be a child having difficulty reading and because of that, he's falling behind in his studies," says Mallard, a Kiwanian since 2007 and vice president of the downtown club. "Or it could be a child who is small and is being bullied."
In the ACE program, students get 6 1/2 hours of classes a day, plus time and space for social development, Mallard says. There are about 10 kids and two AmeriCorps counselors to a cabin. They get three meals a day and more individualized attention. Students go home for weekends and return on Sundays.
"Every Sunday there is a one-hour meeting with [parents or guardians] where counselors talk about what the child has been doing the week before. It becomes a partnership," Mallard says.
Mallard grew up in Fort Smith, graduated from Fort Smith Northside High School and earned a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. A few years later, he returned to UA for law school and graduated in 2005. He and his wife, Ellen, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse at Arkansas Children's Hospital, have two children, daughter Pierce, 5, and 18-month-old son Warren.
After moving to Little Rock, where he is a partner at Mallard Gardner law firm, he searched for a way to become part of the community and was guided by law school buddies to Kiwanis and Pfeifer Camp. He also met the camp's executive director, Sanford Tollette.
"You talk to Sanford one time, you get the spirit. He's been out here for 40 years, and he's had a profound impact. All the staff has. It's easy to be inspired by them," Mallard says. "[Tollette] told us about the mission of taking at-risk youth and trying to get them acclimated so they can be successful in school and I said, 'Let me see what this is all about.'"
One visit to a graduation of ACE students and Mallard was hooked. "You realize that in just a short time, you can make a profound difference in the lives of these kids."
Tollette lauds Mallard's value as a board member and "as a person giving to underprivileged kids."
Mallard was involved with tutoring students at one of the local elementary schools, says longtime Kiwanis Club member and former president Charlie Coleman. "As you might imagine, it's hard to get people who think they are busy with their lives and work to take time out and tutor kids. Not for Gabe. He was leading the charge."
"Seeing these kids, you realize they just need some guidance," Mallard says during a stroll around the camp.
ACE graduates are also invited to a week of the free residential summer camp at Pfeifer Camp, open to children ages 9-14. The camp runs for five weeks and specializes in outdoorsy pastimes on the camp's 80 bucolic acres.
"We take 40 to 50 kids per session," Mallard says, "and, unlike the school sessions, you're going into the woods, camping and canoeing, you get to learn how to fish. My daughter can't wait to be a Pfeifer Camp kid."
The summer camp and the ACE program are financed with money raised by Mallard and his fellow Kiwanians.
The yearly Campership drive raises about $100,000, he said, and the Buddy Coleman Memorial Golf Invitational, held every September, pulls in about $25,000. Another fundraiser, Campin' Out, was held at the River Market in downtown Little Rock earlier this month.
"There's a sense of pride that we are [affecting] these kids' lives," Mallard says. "But there's also a sense of hope because we hear all the time that our school systems are failing. They're not. They just need help, and whether it's us as Kiwanians providing for Pfeifer Camp that then helps the districts, or whether it's going out to the schools and volunteering with kids and mentoring and tutoring, there are all kinds of ways we can help."
More information on Pfeifer Camp and its programs is available at (501) 821-3714 or on the web at pfeifercamp.com
High Profile on 11/20/2016