Sixteen-year old Rena Gomes is not interested in the accolades or awards that may come from volunteer work. But the South Kingstown High School junior jumps at the chance to do good for her community.
Since her freshman year, she has done just that as a volunteer at the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale, 1231 Kingstown Road, Peace Dale.
“I just like helping out,” Gomes said. “I like being here.”
Kate Brewster, executive director of the Jonnycake Center, said Gomes logged more hours volunteering at the center than any other teen this summer by far, and may have even volunteered more hours than most teens do throughout the entirety of the program.
“I am amazed by her ability to do whatever is asked of her, to learn new skills, and to deliver our services with a smile,” Brewster said. “All of her supervisors have remarked to me how helpful she has been. She has become an invaluable member of our team, like no other teen we have seen.”
Gomes will be honored for her efforts Oct. 12 as the first recipient of the Independent Spirit Youth Award. Alongside her will be four recipients of the 2017 Independent Spirit Award – Walter Berry of North Kingstown, who has volunteered with the Concerned Citizens of Davisville and Land Conservancy of North Kingstown; Emily Cummiskey of South Kingstown, who has volunteered at the Jonnycake Center, Welcome House of South County and numerous school PTOs; Kathy Isenbergh of North Kingstown, who serves as coordinator of Friends in Service to Humanity, or FISH; and Nancy Read, who has volunteered at South County Hospital.
The Jonnycake Center has a goal of ending hunger in the community, and provides comprehensive assistance to those in need of food, clothing and household items. It opened in 1974 in Wakefield, taking its name from a basic food item from the colonial period. The organization has since moved to Peace Dale and opened a second center in Westerly. According to its website, it serves approximately 1,700 active clients – a figure that nearly doubled at the height of the Great Recession.
Gomes, the daughter of Pedro and Maghnee Gomes, worked at least four hours for four to five days a week over the summer at the center, assisting in virtually all areas of the operation. She has worked in the food pantry and donation center, and assisted with fundraising, store merchandising and backpack distribution. Brewster said she remembers seeing Gomes help create a number of bouquets for the baskets that were awarded during the center’s annual gala.
Gomes does not like to talk about herself much, but it was apparent she likes to help people, and has a knack for it.
“Wherever we needed her to, she’s flexible,” Brewster said. “She’s like a little jackrabbit over at that food pantry. She was a big value – a very big value.”
Gomes moved to South Kingstown in sixth grade, and attended Curtis Corner Middle School. She began working at the Jonnycake Center as a freshman in high school to complete required community service hours. After that was finished, she decided to remain and participate in the center’s Teen Jonnycake Program.
After high school, Gomes hopes to attend Johnson & Wales University to study culinary arts. She said she enjoys cooking and does it quite often.
“I just love food,” she said. “I like all food.”
With school back in session, Gomes will not be able to do her usual 30 hours a week at the center. After all, she keeps a pretty busy schedule. She said after school, she goes home to do chores, homework and then cheer practice.
This is her second year as a cheer coach for the Washington County Raiders, which is part of the state’s pre-teen football league, with her mother and sisters. Before coaching, she cheered for the Raiders for two years.
“She definitely deserves the fall off in hours here,” Brewster said.
The Independent Spirit Awards banquet will be held Oct. 12 starting at 6 p.m. at Laurel Lane Country Club, 309 Laurel Lane, West Kingston. For tickets, visit independent ri.com, or see a registration form on Page B10 of today’s edition.