As tears rolled down her cheeks, the director of Hope Academy at the Van Buren School District Career Center was speechless.

Karen Beckner was taken by surprise at Saturday night’s Hopeful Heart Dinner and Dance when members of the Business Connection presented a van to be used by the volunteer after-school program.

“I have no words … I don’t know what to say,” Beckner said after the van was driven into the Crawford County Department of Emergency Management following dinner. “This is crazy … thank you everybody.”

Business Connections member Tonia Fry said the group decided it wanted to lend a helping hand to Hope Academy after Beckner said she sometimes had problems finding transportation for students.

“Karen said she had to borrow vans to transport students to cooking classes and to events over the summer months,” Fry said.

Quickly, things began to fall in place for Business Connections, a business referral group of Crawford and Sebastian County business leaders who want to make an impact on the community.

Michael Dawson of Broadway Motors in Van Buren said he had just traded for a 15-passenger.

“This was just what Hope Academy needed,” Fry said. “So, as a group we decided to do it. Immediately, others in the group and some from outside the group agreed to donate money.”

Darrell’s Tire donated new tires and Evans Body Shop agreed to paint the van and Tommy’s Garage did some door repairs. Shell Quick Lube donated three oil changes and PAC Printers dressed up the van with Hope Academy decals.

N Bye 10 provided music for the third annual Hopeful Heart Dinner and Dance, which also included door prizes and a silent auction. Stirred Catering and Coffee provided the meal.

Hope Academy is designed to help students who are in need of a safe place to go after school. It began in 2013 with six students staying after school. Today, 16 to 18 students stay each day.

“The growth that I see from this program is amazing and my volunteers from the community have adopted each child into their hearts,” Becker said.

Hope Academy provides a meal each day and offers activities, including martial arts classes, guitar lessons, sewing, art and cooking classes and Bible study.

“My students will tell you that most of all we are family,” Beckner said.

The academy also offers a summer program that meets twice a week during the month of July.

Hope Academy is a non-profit that depends strictly on donations, grants and community support.

The Van Buren School District provides Hope Academy with a building in which to meet and transportation home each day. However, the academy is not funded by VBSD, Beckner pointed out.

“None of this would be possible without folks with a heart for kids and a heart for giving,” Beckner said.