words: Marla Cantrell
Images: courtesy Donald W Reynolds Cancer Support House and Marla Cantrell
Standing on the street across from First National Bank of Fort Smith, Arkansas, you have to crane your neck to see the roofline of the eight-story, white brick building. This landmark took a year to construct and has been in this spot on Garrison Avenue since 1910. As recognizable as the bank is, few have seen it from the rooftop. There is a record of a renowned tenor singing there as a publicity stunt in September 1911, but other than that the roof’s role has been largely utilitarian.
All that will change on October 15, as ninety people from the community rappel down the face of First National. Before they step off the ledge, they will have raised at least one thousand dollars each for the Donald W Reynolds Cancer Support House.
The idea surfaced as Susan Steffens, executive director for the Cancer Support House, researched unique ways to raise funds for the non-profit. She’d been part of Leadership Crawford County not long before, and they’d gone zip lining, scaling through treetops while tethered to harnesses. What she learned then was that doing something scary does all sorts of good things for a person, and the sense of accomplishment lasts far longer than the actual experience does.
Some time after, Susan came across Over the Edge, a special events company founded in 2004 that goes into cities to host rappelling events at high-rise buildings. Their goal when they began was to help non-profits raise 50 million dollars, something that could happen as soon as the end of this year.
Once she’d checked out Over the Edge, she brought the idea to the board, believing it would be the perfect addition to their twenty-fifth anniversary of the Survivors’ Challenge Weekend on October 14 and 15. “They probably thought I was crazy at first,” Susan says, and then laughs. But once they looked over her proposal, they saw why she was excited about the prospect of bringing something revolutionary to the city.
Already, there are people who’ve signed up to rappel First National and who’ve started fundraising campaigns through the Cancer Support House’s website. Each week more apply, and Susan encourages anyone who wants to be part of Over the Edge to get started now. (You can find details on how to set up your personal page at the Support House’s website.)
“Don’t be intimidated by the fundraising,” Susan says. “Most donations are around twenty-five dollars, and you have plenty of time to raise a thousand dollars. Use Facebook, email, make calls.”
Even if you don’t have the nerve to rappel, there’s a way to participate in an initiative called Toss Your Boss. Co-workers raise fifteen-hundred dollars and nominate their boss to rappel down 108 feet from the top of First National. There is an out, though. Bosses may elect to buy their way out by paying five hundred dollars and assigning someone else to go Over the Edge in their place.
Susan is hoping to raise five thousand dollars for her turn at scaling the building. Even though the thought makes her heart race, she knows it’s going to be a memory she’ll treasure. Sam T. Sicard, the president and CEO of First National, is also going to harness up and take his turn. On a recent day, the fifth-generation banker went to the rooftop to see what he was up against. It’s been a long time since he rappelled, and that was on White Rock Mountain in Mulberry when he was a teen.
Susan says it should only take ten minutes for an “edger” to rappel down First National. Over the Edge technicians will be there, buckling everyone into full-body harnesses and giving instructions. The Fort Smith Fire Department will be on site all day on October 15, manning the ropes. And the Fort Smith Police Department will volunteer, along with many from the community. The first to rappel will start at nine in the morning, and Susan expects crowds of onlookers to gather along Garrison Avenue to watch.
“We’re going to have a big screen TV and announcers that will call out who’s rappelling down the building as it happens. We’re going to have a street festival with great food and music. It’s going to be so much fun.” Susan laughs. “We may have to use a split screen on that TV so we can also watch the Razorback game.”
Susan says you don’t need any prior experience to do it, just an eye for adventure and a heart for giving. She also knows that when the day ends, she and all those working so hard to raise money for the Cancer Support House will have done their best.
“We’ve been serving the community for thirty-eight years, and we’re excited this event is bringing attention to the patients and caregivers we serve at no cost, and to the city we love.”
Susan encourages everyone to get involved. Sign up to go Over the Edge or for the Survivors’ Challenge 10K Grand Prix, 10K Grand Prix, 5K Run/Walk, Celebration Walk and wheelchair race.
Finally, if you aren’t rappelling, you can show up downtown and cheer the “edgers” on. You’ll be seeing history unfold on Garrison Avenue, at one of the city’s best-known landmarks. What a great way to spend a day in October. What an exciting way to support our friends and families and neighbors who are dealing with cancer, who are much braver than any of us, even those who step off the ledge of First National, 108 feet above the ground, and work their way down, step by step, to solid ground below.
Over the Edge takes place on October 15. Register to participate, or nominate your boss for Toss Your Boss, at ReynoldsCancerSupportHouse.org or by calling 479.424.1812.
Volunteers are also needed, so if you can’t participate in the events, consider donating your time!