Anyone who has ever attended Designers Choice Fashion Preview has seen Brenda Hatton-Ficklin. Her smiling face is, in fact, usually the first to be seen.
At the event -- a showcase for the work of local/regional fashion designers -- Hatton-Ficklin has served for years as a volunteer, working the "front of the house."
"That's the role that Theresa [Timmons, the event's founder] gave me," she says, explaining that the front-of-house person is not only the first person eventgoers see. "They handle all problems. They handle tickets at the door. They handle media at the door, and that's why you always see me."
At one time, Hatton-Ficklin thought she wanted to work the back of house instead, handling the needs of hair and makeup artists, event hosts and anyone else backstage. One year, she did work back of house. And got an attitude adjustment.
"It is a lot of chaos," she says. "You've got all of these people backstage and everybody's pulling at you . ... Everybody's got a question. Everybody needs this. Everybody needs that. And if you don't know anything else about me, I'm a woman of order. [I decided], 'Let me go back to where I know what I'm doing -- at the front of house.' That's just the place I've always been comfortable with."
Hatton-Ficklin is used to giving her time for the common good. The sales director for the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau and divorced mother of three started out volunteering at Pine Bluff's Barraque Street Missionary Baptist Church at an early age.
A Junior League of Little Rock sustainer, Hatton-Ficklin says it was in the League that she learned about real, meaningful, community volunteerism.
"Not only that, but I was also introduced to being able to have a leadership role as a volunteer," she says. "Sometimes, we think that volunteering is just being a flunky, or doing whatever somebody tells you to do. But I learned how to volunteer as well as hold leadership roles.
"You've always got to have that person to say, 'OK, yeah ... we'll be here all night. ... We literally have to come up with some kind of plan of action.'"
Hatton-Ficklin also spent years serving on the hospitality committee, as well as the wedding ministry, of Little Rock's St. Mark Baptist Church.
"That gave me an opportunity to be exposed to so many other people, and I'm a people person," Hatton Ficklin says. "I feel like once I joined St. Mark, [I] was able to really dig in, dig my heels in and figure out, 'What ... is my gift? ... What [did] God put me on this earth to do?' That's where I realized that my gift was hospitality-slash-events."
Hatton-Ficklin went on to be events director at St. Mark.
"At that time, I realized that not only am I busy here in ministry, but I wanted to get my hands dirty [in] events, because that's what I love doing," she says. "I love meeting people. I love making people feel welcome. I love making sure that everything is right.
"This is one of those situations where I feel like I had an 'aha' moment. And I said, 'Oh, this is my gift.' ... I think the event side of it is one thing, but the volunteerism is the fulfillment. It fulfilled a need for me. That's when I was able to flourish."
'JILL' OF ALL TRADES
Newly appointed to the Ronald McDonald House board of directors, Hatton-Ficklin volunteers for the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and is active with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. And she's the executive director of the Timmons Arts Foundation ... the beneficiary of Designer's Choice, which makes its comeback after being sidelined by covid for the past several years.
The nonprofit foundation exposes schoolchildren to arts education, born of what Theresa Timmons mourned as the disappearance of such programs in the public schools. A specialty of the foundation is its monthlong Cultivating the Arts Summer Youth Camp, which proceeds from the fashion show help to fund.
Timmons, Hatton-Ficklin says, "is like a sister to me, and one of my very best friends."
When Timmons came up with the idea for Designers Choice Fashion Preview, "I thought it was an excellent idea. And of course Korto Momolu is our best friend, one of her best friends. What better way to start out a fashion show [than] with one of your friends from Liberia who was also the first runner-up for [Season 5 of reality show] 'Project Runway'?"
GLITZ AND GLAMOUR
Designers Choice has always been heavy on New York-style glitz and glamour, even down to its notable celebrity hosts. Past hosts include actors Morris Chestnut, Viveca A. Fox, Larenz Tate, Meagan Good, Lamman Rucker and husband-and-wife hosts Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker, along with singer Tamar Braxton; model-actor Tyson Beckford; and the late designer Mychael Knight.
"It is always jam-packed and it's exciting," Hatton-Ficklin says of the event.
Each year, Timmons sets a theme for the show. (The 2023 theme, and the host, has yet to be shared.)
As with so many events, Designers Choice went on hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic. That was especially jarring for its organizers as the show traditionally takes place the first Saturday each April and things went into lockdown in mid-March that year.
"One of the things that I feel Theresa did a good job [with], and that is staying relevant -- letting the people know we're still here, and it's coming back," Hatton-Ficklin says. "That gives the audience something to look forward to. She was able to continue to push that out there and make sure that people didn't forget. She was constantly posting pictures on the Facebook page, [trying] to do something to let you know we're not going away."
Covid also interrupted the summer youth camp, but it continued virtually, Hatton-Ficklin says, telling of how Timmons put packets together for the children to do at-home projects.
In-person, the camp is held around the same time each summer at Arkansas Baptist College.
"The kids look so forward to it," Hatton-Ficklin says. "Of course there's visual arts, there is music. ... One of the biggest things that I enjoy about summer camp is the last day." That's when the children come together for a performance featuring everything they learned during the camp -- acting, singing, playing instruments, etc. "And it is amazing."
The children even make their costumes -- "whatever they're going to wear that night for the production. They do a full production ... and it is amazing."
Field trips every Friday are also a part of the camps.
"We're always looking for sponsors to help us to expose these kids to different activities and different things that they can do over the summer," she says. Children are provided breakfast, lunch, and a snack every day of the camp, so the foundation also seeks sponsors to donate water, Gatorade, Popsicles and snacks.
One of the best aspects is that veterans of the camp sometimes return to pay it forward, Hatton-Ficklin continues.
"We've had kids that grew up in the camp ... and then they come back and they volunteer their time. That's always been an eye opener."
New features for Designers Choice 2023 are headlined by its new venue. It has moved from what was the Metroplex Event Center in west Little Rock to The Venue at Westwind, a former church that also houses another Timmons creation ... the Westwind School for the Performing Arts in North Little Rock.
Also, "Theresa is always looking to [feature] different types of designers," Hatton-Ficklin says. "I think that that will be something different to look forward to." In addition to Momolu, models will strut the creations of fellow event veteran Tremaine Pollydore along with Ty Jackson, Cortez K. Miles, Tierra Macon, Felix Milton, Oliver M. Fitzpatrick, Tiffany Pippins, Jimmy and Angel Beasley, and Jayla Lee.
Oh, and here's a surprising fact: "I've never seen the show," Hatton-Ficklin says.
"I've heard the clapping. I've heard the screaming. I heard all of that." But she has to settle for seeing videos of the show afterward. She looks forward to that changing someday.
"One of the things that I always think about is that great leaders always train someone to take the reins. That has been my goal ... to make sure that I have somebody picked out that I can train ... . And that's when I'll be able to see the show."
'A GREAT RIDE'
Hatton-Ficklin summarizes her volunteer roles with Designers Choice and the foundation as "a great ride."
"I just enjoy doing what I do," she adds. Her motto, attributed to the late Muhammad Ali as well as Shirley Chisholm: Service is the rent you pay for room on this earth.
"A lot of times when volunteers do things, we don't do it for attention, and we don't do it for recognition. But we certainly hope that the people that we're doing it for are appreciative. And so when somebody says 'I see you,' it makes it all even more [like] 'OK, I'm doing great. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do.'"
Designers Choice Fashion Preview, benefiting the Timmons Arts Foundation, April 1, The Venue at Westwind, 7318 Windsong Drive, North Little Rock. 6:30 p.m. VIP reception; 7 p.m. general admission; 7:30 p.m. -show with featured designers and musical artists. Tickets $45-$80; Eventbrite.com. For more information about the foundation and its summer youth camp, email firstname.lastname@example.org.