'So much in return' Conway woman's mission is to find a need, then fill itREAD ONLINE
Heber Springs residents receive award for charitable workOriginally Published January 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 2, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.
Debbie Rutter, left, and David Forrester, who were named Inspiring People of Cleburne County, look over some clothes at SSR Helping Hands in Heber Springs. The pair works with a group that provides clothes for needy people in Cleburne County and were recognized by the Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce.
HEBER SPRINGS Debbie Rutter and David Forrester have worked together at the Subway restaurant for 16 years; he is the owner of both Heber Springs locations and she manages both stores.
On Dec. 1, they shared an honor together — they and their families received the Inspiring People of Cleburne County Award sponsored by the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce.
Nutter had nominated Forrester for the award for his assistance with building the store that houses the SSR Helping Hands charity she founded in 2010. A single mother who had received help from the charity had nominated Rutter. Since both were recommended for work with the same charity, the Chamber honored both of them with the award, which is designed to recognize those who “embody the spirit of the Christmas season all year long.”
“It was a total surprise for both of us,” said Rutter, who founded SSR Helping Hands to honor the memories of three men from the community who knew each other and died within a few years of each other — Steve Storm, Frank Slavik and her husband, Bill Rutter. “We didn’t feel worthy of it.”
As winners of the award, they were to turn on the Cleburne County Courthouse Christmas lights before the Christmas parade. Each chose one of their grandchildren to flip the switch — Rutter chose her 2-year-old grandson, Tucker Mayfield, and Forrester chose his 7-year-old granddaughter, Zoe Forrester.
Rutter’s family also includes a son, J.D. Rutter, and a daughter, Kaitlin Rutter, who is the mother of Tucker Mayfield.
Forrester’s family includes his wife, Martha; a daughter, Christie Forrester, who is the mother of Zoe; and a son, Justin Forrester, and his wife, Katherine, of Memphis, and their children, Ethan David, 5, and Vivian, 2.
Forrester and his family moved to Heber Springs from Memphis. The Rutters came from Ohio. “We became each other’s family,” Forrester said.
Rutter said she and her husband had always talked about starting a charity that would help provide clothing for the needy, but they never got around to it. But after his untimely death in 2009, Rutter further pursued the idea, founding SSR Helping Hands in 2010.
Rutter started the charity in a closet of the First United Methodist Church in Heber Springs and it continues as a mission of that church. In December, they moved the charity to a space in the building that houses Red River Music at 210 W. Main St. in Heber Springs — thanks to the donation of the space by building owners Rick and Melisa Gardner. Forrester helped build the rooms that house the charity’s clothing and household items. Assisting Forrester were Gardner and Rutter, as well as By Miller.
Gardner said he was happy to donate the space for SSR Helping Hands. “As a small business owner, you get asked a lot by organizations for donations,” he said. “I just happened to be in the restaurant and heard David mention that they were looking for a space for the clothes closet. My wife and I had talked about adopting a charitable endeavor and this just seemed to be the right thing to do. This space was basically unused. I’m glad they are able to use it.”
“It was quite a task to build it,” Forrester said. “It was a rough, rough warehouse space in a building that is at least 130 years old. It was like building a house within a house.”
Rutter said SSR Helping Hands receives donations from the public, churches, Courtesy Consignment and Still-n-Style Consignment. “We give clothing and miscellaneous household items to anyone that needs them,” she said, “no questions asked.
“We tell them to take what they will use,” she said. “It’s for fire victims, domestic-violence victims, single parents; but most of all, it’s for people like you and me that have just lost their jobs or are having a hard time.”
Nutter operates SSR Helping Hands with the help of two volunteers — Lynn Miller, the wife of By Miller, who helped build the space, and Willene Slavik, widow of Frank Slavik, who died in 2011.
“Debbie spends endless hours with this charity,” Slavik said. “She’s really quite amazing. I’m just here to help her.”
Slavik, who has worked for the Arkansas Department of Human Services and the Arkansas State Police, said she and Rutter hope to make SSR Helping Hands a “place of information.”
“We want to be able to tell people who need help what resources are available in the community,” Slavik said. “We have put together an information sheet that we make available to those who come here.”
Nutter said SSR Helping Hands participated in the Arkansas Dream Center’s annual Christmas Mall and helped 103 families for Christmas. The Arkansas Dream Center in Heber Springs is an outreach program that has a food pantry that provides an emergency three-day supply of food to those in need.
SSR Helping Hands is open from 6-8 p.m. on Monday. Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (501) 206-7975.