(Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles on nominations received by Roanoke-Chowan Publications for the 2011 Citizen of the Year in the Roanoke-Chowan region. These articles are being printed throughout the month of February in our annual “Crossroads” edition, inserted each Saturday of the month in the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and each Wednesday in the Gates County Index.)
HENRICO – For as long as she can remember, helping others has come naturally to Mavis Ricks.
“If I saw a person in need, an old lady, someone needing help, I’d step right up and help them right then, never think of myself,” she said. “I just wanted to help them.”
The Northampton County native has always strived to better her community through her volunteer work at the Lake Gaston Community Center in Henrico.
There, as president of the center, she helps to implement different programs and activities geared toward assisting those in the area.
“I guess it’s just a God-sent thing,” Ricks said about her volunteer work. “All of my life I’ve always wanted to help someone. I just wanted to do that.”
Ricks says the desire to help comes from a higher power, but it just may be in her DNA as well.
Her parents, Noreen and Eugene Vincent, were the first of the family to get involved. She said her parents and her enitre family have always reached out to neighbors.
“The whole family still is,” she said. “We help one another, help whoever in our community that needs help. We’re there to help.”
Back then, the center was known as the Religious and Civic Club. The building, constructed in 1945, was originally a school for grades 1-8. After a fire, the school was closed and the property put up for sale.
“The churches in the community purchased the old school and they started the Religious and Civic Club,” Ricks said. “After a couple years it turned in to Lake Gaston Community Center.”
The Vincents would work fundraisers for the club with their daughter by their side.
“My family was always involved so I was always involved, we did a lot of fundraising dinners,” she said. “As a little girl, I came with my mother and father out here. As I got older, I started coming to the meetings from time to time. I started joining my parents and working with them every month.”
For 15 years, Ricks worked at the sewing factory in Seaboard until it closed. After sometime spent at home, she decided to go into business for herself with a cleaning company, Professional Ultra Clean.
As time passed, her involvement in the center increased. For the previous three to four years she has served as the organization’s president, keep order at the governing board’s meetings and setting up agendas. Ricks said she works on a six member board that provides leadership at the center.
“All of us come together and we talk and bring back (ideas to meetings),” she said. “We know whether to go forward or leave it alone.”
Her work doesn’t stop there. As president it’s her duty to go out into the community to evaluate needs. She researches different ideas and brings it back to the board. She then solicits different programs and groups to implement activities.
And when she’s not consulting with community sources about ideas for the center, she’s in the kitchen cooking for different events and overseeing the general operations of functions.
The center provides for an array of community activities and meetings. Baby showers, senior citizen meetings, exercise classes, labor skill classes all take place at the center.
“We’re here for the community for educational programs,” Ricks said. “We have skill classes for carpentry, we have a GED program and right now we have cooking classes coming in and also sewing classes.”
Electrician classes are another up and coming class at the Community Center.
“We help the community advance themselves for the future,” she said. “We provide them with work skills.”
Ricks said the organization has assisted the community in other ways. The center has partnered with local agencies like the Department of Social Services for food drives and the Health Department for health screenings. Clothing drives have also been held.
A library is set up for children and those who need a place to study. Ricks said the center is currently looking for volunteers to assist with the library.
Ricks is also hoping to begin an after school program for youngsters in the form of tutoring and a pre-school type program for smaller children.
Dinner and breakfast fundraisers are still a staple to help the center pay those all important bills.
As of recently, the building’s hallways have been filled with the noise of nail guns, saws and drills, good noise nonetheless. The center is getting a new addition courtesy of a $248,000 Golden LEAF grant.
“That has really helped us a lot,” Ricks said.
She added everyone worked on the grant, including fellow Henrico resident Jack Saunders who wrote the grant for the organization.
“The addition will be three to four rooms and they will be set up for classrooms and more space for different functions,” she said. “We’re also updating bathrooms and we got a new roof recently.”
Ricks said the ultimate goal of the center is to serve anyone that comes by with the diverse resources it has in place.
“It serves the community very well,” she said.
The center’s mission is not far from her own. Ricks said she just wants to help someone on their way.
“I enjoy doing it,” she said. “I get the joy of helping someone, no money, no material (items) just knowing I’ve helped someone on their way. Everything here is volunteer. So you’ve got to love it.”