BENTON, Ark. – Many of us dream of a better community but few of us dedicate our days to making that happen.
Our first Community Service Award honoree of 2017 is a woman who not only does the work but finds ways to bring her neighbors into the fold.
Selena Ellis is a shining star in Saline County. The City of Benton, dubbed the heart of Arkansas, is where volunteerism and community involvement is a way of life.
Just last year, about a dozen organizations added up their volunteer hours to a quarter of a million. Of those, 249,650 belonged to Selena, Benton Mayor David Mattingly joked.
“The best people in Benton are the volunteers,” she says.
Ask anyone in town and they’ll tell you she’s not only poured her heart and soul into improving the community through her extensive work with Habitat for Humanity, Master Gardeners, and The Royal Players, but she’s recruited countless people to do the same.
“Sometimes when she walks in the room everybody goes, ‘Uh oh, Selena’s coming. She’s going to ask us to do something,'” says Rev. Lorrie Slaymaker, with Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church. “And you would think that people would run, but they don’t. They stay and wait and hear what she has to say, and most of the time they say, ‘Well okay, I can do that.”
Selena uses that enthusiasm and knack for recruiting people to build bridges in the community, particularly matching Habitat families with mentors who can help them transition into homeowners.
“Is there anything we need? We call Selena and she’s there to do it for us,” says Hollie Hughes with Habitat for Humanity in Saline County. “You can’t look at and say I can’t do something because she shows that you can do it.”
Volunteering for her is two-fold.
“It’s good for Benton. It’s good for me. I love volunteering. You meet new people. You get to put on events. You get to participate in improving an already fantastic place,” Selena explains.
In addition to all of her community involvement, Selena spent three decades working for the Department of Human Services. She has a unique understanding of how vital that kind of involvement is for the State of Arkansas.
“Government can’t take care of everybody,” she continues. “We need to have the volunteer sector that works with the government and the private sector to make a better community.”
Now, in her so-called retirement, Selena has taken on a massive project, restoring the historic Royal Theater to its original glory. It’s a two-year, $2-million dollar community project that can only be pulled off by someone like Selena Ellis. The goal would be to have the funds raised and project completed in time for the theater’s 100th anniversary in 2020.
“Hopefully in a few years the quality of the theater will match the quality of the productions (put on by The Royal Players,” architect Les Owens said.
All of the 2017 Community Service Award recipients will be honored on June 2.