LU Rogers honoree sees service as ‘something I’m supposed to do’
In her life, in her deeds and in her heart, Antoinette Mays defines what it means to help others. Following the example set by her mother, grandmother, aunts and other family members when she was young, Mays embarked on a mission of service.
Because of her devotion to dozens of organizations and causes, Lamar University selected her as its 2011 recipient of the Julie and Ben Rogers Community Service Award. A Beaumont resident and LU staff member since 2008, Mays is an administrative assistant in the Office of Alumni Affairs. Mays accepted the award Nov. 30 during a ceremony honoring her and recipients from Lamar Institute of Technology, Lamar State College-Orange and Lamar State College-Port Arthur.
“As I look around this campus, I see Mays’ efforts at every turn. Whether it’s an event, a service project or a good deed, she is there in a heartbeat,” President James Simmons said during the ceremony. “Imagine, then, all that Mays means to the community at large – to civic and religious groups, schools, fund-raisers and efforts against domestic violence and on behalf of causes ranging from victims’ assistance to mental health.”
Regina Rogers represented the Rogers family in presenting the awards, which Julie and Ben Rogers established in 1979 to encourage Lamar faculty and staff members to volunteer their services and talents to benefit the community. The Lamar University Foundation maintains an endowment that provides for the award.
“It doesn’t matter whether you have a lot of money or a little bit,” Mays said. “If you can help somebody, I think you’ve done a whole lot. In my heart, it feels like something I’m supposed to do.
“It’s humbling to be there for somebody. It makes you thankful. It makes you know you made a difference, but it wasn’t really you who made the difference. It was because of what you are and who you are,” she said.
“To me, it’s because of God. It’s the God in me that makes me reach out and help other people because people were always there for me. There was never a time when there wasn’t someone there for me through the good and the bad.”
Mays grew up in Beaumont, where her mother, grandmother and aunts inspired her to help others. “Everybody was always helping somebody,” she said. “I liked that and, as I got older, I found I really liked helping people. I always knew I wanted to do things to help people.”
She derived further inspiration from the nuns who taught her at the Catholic boarding school she attended in Lafayette, La. There were school projects, which no doubt marked the beginnings of her volunteer leadership qualities. During trips to the Mother House of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, she had the opportunity to work with babies and young children at the orphanage the sisters operated.
Among those who supported Mays’ nomination for the Rogers Award was Pastor Georgia Ealy of the House of Prayer Ministries in Austin. “Antoinette has a heart of love that flows out to others and hands to reach out as far as they can go to help people in need,” Ealy wrote. “Antoinette is one who has great abilities to change not only a community, but a city. Her compassion for others is a never-ending expression of her deep love toward the needs of others.”
Those expressions come through in her speeches, performances and program appearances. She was the keynote speaker for the April 2010 Victims Candlelight Vigil and the December 2010 Angel Tree Celebration, both sponsored by the Jefferson County Coalition for Victims of Crime. Mays survived a violent crime during the 1990s and, she said, “I was able to heal really quickly because of the people at my church and the way we all reached out to each other. It made me want to be there for other people to give them the courage too.”
While living in Houston, she worked with victims’ assistance through her church and a support group called Bruised But Not Broken. “That was really eye opening. I had friends who were victims,” she said. Becoming a victim heightened her commitment. “That – plus some of the other things – really pushed me and others into wanting to help people,” she said.
Later, while working as a probation officer in Mississippi, she gained experience with domestic violence victims and perpetrators and those charged with driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. She became a licensed substance abuse counselor. Also in Mississippi, she expanded Bruised But Not Broken into a ministry.
On the Lamar campus, Mays is the founder and coordinator of the Lamar University Women Empowering Women Through the Mentoring Pilot Program. She is founder and staff advisor to the LU Registered Student Organization’s Bruised But Not Broken Support Group and organizer of the Candlelight Vigil and Prayer Walk Against Domestic Violence on campus. She recruits members for the LU African-American Mentor Program and chairs committees for the Women’s Empowerment Conference.
Mays’ involvement in civic groups – as a board member, organizer or volunteer – extends to the March of Dimes, Mental Health Association, Family Services of Southeast Texas, Communities in Schools of Southeast Texas, Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas, Gusher Marathon and 100 Black Men of Greater Beaumont, in addition to the Jefferson County Coalition for Victims of Crime. She serves on the National Domestic Violence Coalition and Texas Council on Family Violence.
Her dedication to religious groups includes serving on boards of Bruised But Not Broken Ministries and the Texas Mass Choir of the Gospel and as a member of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. At St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church, she is founder, director and minister of Daughters of Promise With Purpose and youth minister for the Bridge Builders Group. Her efforts have benefitted Ozen High School and Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School.
At a time when many organizations need volunteers – and spend time and energy recruiting them – Mays is known to seek out volunteer opportunities. On one such occasion, Christy Hardt, development officer for Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas, reported receiving an “amazing” phone call from Mays, who “came out of the woodwork” to help with the hospital’s first fun run. Not only did she volunteer her time, but she also contributed her expertise to ensuring the event’s success. “Antoinette is the true definition of a volunteer,” Hardt wrote.
When Mays volunteered to help with the March of Dimes’ March for Babies last spring, she brought Lamar students and other volunteers with her. And, wrote division Director Donna Blanchette, “She was the savior of the day.”
Mays helps organize and recruit volunteers for the “Take Yourself and a Loved One to the Doctor Day,” sponsored by Jefferson County Precinct 4 Commissioner Everette “Bo” Alfred. “I am grateful for Antoinette’s involvement and for her commitment to improving the quality of life for Southeast Texas residents,” Alfred said.
Karen Newton, executive director of Communities in Schools, said Mays has “dedicated many hours of service promoting the organization as it has reached thousands of students and their families,” focusing on drop-out prevention and providing assistance to children to help them stay in school and succeed.
Mays earned her degree in general studies from Lamar in 2007, with an emphasis on kinesiology and sociology. Working full time, she is pursuing a master’s degree in family and consumer science and a second degree in applied arts and sciences. Before coming to Lamar, Mays had a varied career, including stints as a USA track official and track coach and as an assistant track coach at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.
The mother of one daughter and five sons and grandmother to seven, Mays said she loves being surrounded by a close-knit family that includes two sisters, a brother and a cousin she considers more like a big brother or wise uncle.
Mays’ family also extends to those in the organizations and causes that count on her – as well as the hundreds they serve. “I just love helping,” she said. “Anyone can ask me to do something and, if it’s within my ability to do so, I don’t say ‘no.’”
That feeling is mutual.
“It is rare to witness someone willing to offer so much of their services to others,” said Richard James III, director of the Gusher Marathon. Mays represents the ideals of the Rogers Award and continues to make significant public-service contributions to her community, he wrote. “As we all know, actions speak louder than words, and Antoinette sets the bar high by constantly taking action to better our local area. Through her actions, she has become a role model for others, exemplifying a strong work ethic, positive attitude and kind spirit.”
Photo: Antoinette Mays (photo by Brian Sattler/courtesy of Lamar University).