When the children of Sandpipers Early Learning Center are picked up by their parents on Tuesday and Friday afternoons they cheerfully stop and say hello to Ernest Gibbons who offers them sweets and a smile. “I have earned the title ‘Candy Man’ over the years,” he says. “I try to make it fun for them by wearing red, having seasonal treats like candy canes or candy corns and offering two pieces on Tuesday.” He began with Child & Family after responding to ad in the local newspaper for volunteers at the new community Center on John Clark Road. He would offer tours of the facility or escort visitors around the building to connect with employees. It was his idea to develop this role he explains, adding how everyone at Child & Family is so welcoming and cordial. “They have included me as family and even Peter DiBari, former President & CEO, would dip his hand into my bowl every now and then,” he smiles.
His nametag says Greeter/Ambassador but he is so much more. He recalls his initial interest in volunteering many years ago while he was working in the Caribbean. “Painted on a wall outside a building was a quote, ‘Service is the rent we pay for the space we occupy on earth,’ and that stuck with me all these years,” he says. “It epitomizes the way I approach volunteering.” True to his word, Gibbons is the vice president of the state’s largest AARP Chapter, co-founder of Shakespeare in Middletown, a member of the Newport Senior Center’s Family History Writer’s Group, a Trustee on the Board of the Middletown Public Library and an active member of his church.
Gibbon’s earliest recollection of the organization was through a schoolmate, Zoe, who lived at the former Child & Family headquarters on School Street. “At the time I was aware of it, but not really knowing what it was,” he explains. Reflecting on that past memory through today, he says of Child & Family, “They are so endemic to the community and so well-known they have proven themselves far beyond my ability to tout their usefulness.”