Next month’s third annual Rector High School (RHS) Helping Hands Foundation benefit concert continues a remarkable endeavor by a pair of successful natives of the tiny town of Rector, Arkansas, whose goal of giving back to their community has enlisted support from the likes of top bluegrass and gospel artists and even legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and John Mellencamp.
Headlining the Aug. 5 show are gospel music stars Mark Lowry and Jason Crabb and stellar bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent. Staging the event is Nashville-based Bill Carter, who grew up in Rector and went on to a stint as a Secret Service agent prior to serving as attorney for the Rolling Stones, manager for Reba McEntire and other country artists, and producer of Southern gospel great Bill Gaither’s Homecoming programming.
Carter co-founded the RHS Helping Hands Foundation in 2006 with retired U.S. Army General George Barker, now of New York. Both are 1953 RHS graduates, and shared the desire to do something for their hometown.
Situated in the northeastern part of the state, Rector (population: 2,017, according to the 2000 Census) has no industry and is surrounded by cotton and soybean fields. Visiting Rector High a few years back to see how they could help, Carter and Barker learned of a young girl with an an abscessed tooth, whose family could not afford to have it treated. They subsequently established the foundation in 2006 as a means of helping meet the short-term financial needs of disadvantaged students in Rector, where Census data further shows 24.7% of families with children have incomes below the poverty level and 44.8% of the children live in female-headed single parent households.
The foundation has since given hundreds of grants providing basic health care, food and school supplies to disadvantaged individual students–as well as musical instruments, athletic equipment and trips for student groups. Additionally, Helping Hands offers scholarships for higher education to Rector students unable to afford tuition and related expenses.
Carter’s father, incidentally, was a laborer; his mother cleaned houses. In a feature last year in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, he recalled seeing a small girl in tattered clothing on Main Street during a trip home. She looked like a little Raggedy Ann doll, he said, and prompted him to try to remember what he was like when he was her age, “when the town was one big family [and] we were all poor.”
Carter was also influenced by the late Moses Knight, who played banjo and told stories to children in Rector in the 1940s–and was the only African-American in the community at the time. When a painting by celebrated artist (and Rector native) Paul Frets was offered in 2008 to benefit the foundation, Carter suggested “Uncle Mose” as the subject. The portrait not only sold for $10,500, but brought about an annual scholarship to Williams Baptist College in nearby Walnut Ridge in Knight’s name.
Keith Richards, meanwhile, donated a signed Zemaitis Pearl Front guitar for auction, payback, perhaps, for Carter’s successful efforts in keeping him out of jail on reckless driving and hunting knife possession charges in Fordyce in 1975. Other merchandise auctioned off over the last few years includes a hat from country star Trace Adkins, a poster signed by Keith Urban, a guitar played on the Grand Ole Opry by Carrie Underwood, a guitar signed by Brooks & Dunn and autographed Mellencamp memorabilia.
“The community helped us when we were kids,” Carter told the Gazette, calling the foundation “the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
“There’s a community spirit in Rector that we’ve shared with each other for all our lives,” he concluded. “We want to help every child we can.”
(The Examiner wrote the Foreword to Bill Carter’s memoir Get Carter–Backstage In History From JFK’s Assassination To The Rolling Stones.)
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