"Blossom where you are planted. Do what you can while you can and use what you got. Everyone has something to bring to the table that will make a difference."
Since moving to Hot Springs in 1984, Lewisville native Robin Wise has followed her own words as she has dedicated numerous hours to volunteering with American Red Cross, mentoring and tutoring programs, and now the Gateway Community Association after watching her own parents "pour themselves into the community."
"I grew up watching my parents volunteer in the community," Wise said. "I was born in '63 so therefore I grew up when there was segregation and I just saw them pour themselves into the community and church. My dad was the scout master and my mom was the den mother for the African American Boy Scout and Cub Scout group. My sisters and I -- we got to tag along with them on different events like when they went fishing and camping. We got to experience that but I saw my parents give back to the community where I grew up. ... What they instilled in my siblings and myself can't go away."
Starting out as the Pleasant Street Neighborhood in the early 1990s, the Gateway Community Association is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization "representing communities bordering historic downtown." According to its website, the "volunteers who live, work, or own property in the Pleasant Street Historical District and Gateway Community and we work together to keep the neighborhood clean, safe, and fun."
Currently working with the city of Hot Springs as a planning and zoning inspector, Wise cites her mother as the reason she became a member of the organization.
"My mom has been a big factor in my life to volunteer," she said. "She was president of the association and her health had started declining. She had some health challenges. I moved in with her in 2008 to care for her ... I would go take her to the meetings and watch her because she was my main concern. I would listen to her at the meetings and she would talk about Hot Springs and the rich history it had -- especially in the Pleasant Street area at that time because it was the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Association ... I watched her give of herself in that association. ... Just listening to her passion for that area and the visions that she saw.
"After my mom passed, I went to the first meeting to quit because as I said, I was going because of my mom and her role that she played and her desire to keep going to the meetings. That was my goal: to go and quit. And they asked me -- I remember Miss Elaine Jones asking me 'Are you gonna quit?' and I couldn't answer her. I wanted to but I just couldn't bring it up out of me. I sat there in silence and she told me, 'We need you.'"
Since joining, Wise's involvement with the association has included fundraisers and projects that aid in bettering the community. Wise recalled a project she spearheaded where the association brought Santa Larry, a widely known professional Santa Claus who has appeared on radio and television shows after becoming the first black Santa at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minn., to the Hotel Hot Springs & Spa.
"We went to the same school but he was older than me and gone by the time I started college," she said. "Everybody would mention his name because we had mutual friends and I was like 'I wanna meet this guy one day.' I did get the opportunity to meet him and he told his story about how he got off to being Santa Claus. I was pondering in my mind 'How can I get him to Hot Springs?' That was three years had past and I was still trying to think of a way to get him to Hot Springs."
After presenting the idea to the organization and the president, Jean Lacefield, the project was given the green light.
"At the time, Matt Fuller, was at our meeting," she said. "He's the owner of 501 Prime. ... After the meeting, he stopped me and asked what I was going to do for toys. You know, I'm trying to think of the money to get Santa here and he said 'You can't have Santa without toys!' A couple weeks later, he met with President Lacefield and myself and had us do a brunch. It was called A Little Taste of the Soul. That went over well, but in the process of doing that -- I was kind of nervous doing it. I work better behind the scenes and not at the forefront. ... Bringing Santa Larry in to see all the people come through, get their pictures, get a toy. Hotel Hot Springs opened up their lobby to us. That was a great event. People came all the way from Memphis, Tennessee to follow him. ... Just to get a picture with him."
The Gateway Community Association has put on the event for two years in a row, but Wise said that everything is undecided as of now due to COVID-19. The association has been involved in constructing a pavilion next to the Webb Community Center and a fundraiser at 501 Prime called Oh What Fun, where kids' games such as Go Fish were placed on tables. The association has partnered with Garland County Habitat for Humanity for a painting project helping homeowners paint their windowsills if the coloring is peeling and there is a Malvern Gateway Proposal in the works that includes plans of revitalizing Malvern Avenue between Grand Avenue and Spring Street.
"When my mom was president, there were a lot of things she talked about that I can see in this plan," Wise said of the proposal. "She would always say 'It's gonna happen. We don't have any money but it's gonna happen.' So here it is. It's just the vision that she had for Malvern Avenue and I can see a lot of the vision in the proposal and I get excited -- she just wanted to see it flourish and bring out the potential. She had a passion and I guess I picked up that passion by listening to her talk about Hot Springs and the Pleasant Street area. I began to see that for myself and then I could see and appreciate the passion she had."
What does Wise cherish most about volunteering with the organization? The mission -- the enhancement, rehabilitation, and improvement to the community.
"With the Malvern Gateway Proposal, it will help enhance the community," she said. "The community is the whole city -- the teamwork, the support we have with each other and to each other. ... Volunteering is not easy. You've got to have a passion to do it. Everybody has something to bring to the table ... I'm with the Gateway to help make a difference in our community. I have grandchildren therefore I have to make a difference in the community. I have to attend the meetings, roll up my sleeves, and sit at the table with great minds to brainstorm ideas for fundraisers and different ways to help make our community better."
Wise originally had plans of leaving Hot Springs that never came to be, but is grateful she has "a place I now call home."
Volunteering has "helped me to take the focus off my worries, stress and channel that energy into helping someone else," she said. "It has helped me to be a team player, help problem solve, (and) use my skills. Volunteering is love in action. It is support (and) encouragement.
"I volunteer because I care. I guess that sums it all up. I sometimes wondered why my mom would pour into a place, attend meeting after meeting to help come up with ideas that would help make a place look better, (and) why -- even when she was sick -- that she still cared about a place she was not born or raised in ... I look at the Gateway. I look at Hot Springs and it is a beautiful place."
For more information on the Gateway Community Association, visit gatewaycommunityassociation.org. They also have a monthly meeting which is scheduled for the first Saturday of each month at noon at the Webb Community Center, 127 Pleasant St.