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September 27, 2020

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University alum now project organizer for Gulf Coast Leadership Council

Her current priorities include organizing for the 2020 Census and bringing local faith-based leaders together to work on issues of flooding.

When Sarah Ricks graduated from Bluffton in 2010, her goal was to help people “and utilize my skills and education in a way that would make a contribution to my greater community.”

Today, that is exactly what she is doing, but she never imagined it would be in Southeast, Texas.

The Lima native is a project organizer for Gulf Coast Leadership Council, a non-profit that brings faith communities of all denominations together to provide resources to people in need. Over the past few years, the greatest need has been Hurricane Harvey recovery and relief.

Coming to Bluffton
As a senior in high school, Ricks and her classmates were invited to spend a weekend at Bluffton. Intrigued by the campus community, she returned a few weeks later to sit in on a class and ended up in a debate with another student. Class ended, but Ricks wanted to continue the conversation.

“I never found her, but I enjoyed the dialogue,” said Ricks. “At Bluffton, I realized I was able to express and develop new ideas and appreciate the value of learning.”

A Forum presentation by Bluffton trustee Larry Milan ’73 showed her how a person’s values can shape their career. “I realized it doesn’t have to be separate. I still carry that with me,” explained Ricks, who continues to consider Milan a trusted mentor.

A business administration and writing double major, Ricks’ classes helped her learn how to develop a business plan, bring people together and refine messages. However, she particularly enjoyed her liberal arts courses—first-year seminar, cross-cultural and capstone.

“We were asking questions, looking at our hopes and dreams and seeing where we could contribute in the community while bringing both our career and purpose into alignment.”

Ohio to Texas
After graduating from Bluffton, Ricks’ career flourished at Sherwin Williams while working alongside brothers Ben ’07 and Sam ’08 McCullough.

“They mentored and grew with me and helped me step out on my own,” said Ricks. “It was a wonderful experience to see the values of Bluffton play out in the real world.”

While serving as a district manager in training with Speedway, Ricks resigned to care for her ailing grandmother in Texas. There, she built new relationships and connections and remained after her grandmother’s passing. When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017 followed by Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, Ricks’ management and communication experience became an asset in relief efforts.

All in this together
As a project organizer, Ricks’ work is currently focused on hurricane relief efforts—from the immediate need (food, clothing and shelter) to helping disaster victims navigate bureaucracy and obtain assistance from agencies such as FEMA and the Texas General Land Office.

“After Harvey hit, my heart really wanted to do more to bring resources to the hardest to reach in the community,” explained Ricks.

So, she created a model to host outreach events at churches which removed barriers to accessing help.

“Instead of asking people to go to an office building, we came directly to the individuals in the community. We connected them directly to case managers to walk them through recovery so they could apply for home rebuilds, legal services, whatever resources they needed.”

Her current priorities include organizing for the 2020 Census and bringing local faith-based leaders together to work on issues of flooding.

Ricks is doing this for her community, while going through the recovery process herself.

“Our home was flooded, and we had to get out of the house and transition to a different location. I went through the process of getting repairs done on our home while working alongside families hurting just like we were,” said Ricks. “We truly are in this whole life experience together.