By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
But that was only the starting point for the volunteer Rockfish Community Chamber of Commerce. From beautification to incorporation to the Backpack Buddies program, the organization is expanding to help a wide range of causes local to Rockfish residents.
The group that eventually became the nonprofit Rockfish Community Chamber first started out in 2017 as a beautification group, mostly concerned with the appearance of the downtown area of Rockfish. The organization pursued dual nonprofit status and today is a privately incorporated 501c6 and 501c3.
Earlene Harper serves as president, Ken Gregory is chairman, Jessica Rigg is vice chairman, Anita Wilson is treasurer and Heather Hall is secretary. General board members include John Wilson, Candy Quigley, J.R. Cummings and Melissa Rozillo. A number of local businesses and supporters have joined as members.
The Rockfish Community Chamber of Commerce has an eye on a variety of things potentially affecting the future of the Rockfish.
The organization conducted a feasibility study looking at economic development in the area. The group has also looked into matters ranging from issues with the local roads and the long-discussed possibility of incorporating Rockfish into a municipality, to addressing citizen complaints.
The director and chairman both spoke in support of incorporating, and growing the community through new development. The type of development matters, too, Gregory said.
“If we can do an incorporation and bring in businesses that are going to be conducive to family culture and whatnot, and not just a strip mall with a gaming parlor, ABC store and a bar or whatever… bring in businesses that also could give a few kids around here possibly a summer job or after school job, that would help out,” he said.
The chairman also spoke in support of potentially bringing a satellite public library branch to the community.
“We’d like to get a library or library extension down here, but you’re looking at funding too,” Gregory said.
The Rockfish Community Chamber has been active in other ways, too. Last year, Gregory, Harper and other members of the organization collected signatures on a petition asking the Hoke County Board of Commissioners to take action against gaming parlors that were operating in Rockfish.
Right now the group is involved in working with state agencies to remove a dilapidated building in downtown Rockfish. So far the state has removed some buried tanks from the property, but additional steps of testing and further procedures still have to happen before the building itself can go.
It’s a slow process that’s still ongoing, Harper said.
“Each step is a process in bureaucracy. Because I’m not a municipality, I don’t represent a municipality, I can’t say, city maintenance guys go tear it down and dig it up and send it off for testing – I can’t do that. I have to work step by step by step,” she said.
In the last few years, the Rockfish Community Chamber has also helped support the Backpack Buddies program, which stuffs backpacks with food for children to take home with them. The program’s goal is to make sure children have enough to eat when they’re not getting meals during the school day.
Some other projects that were in the works ended up on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A special event festival planned for Rockfish that would have featured food, activities and live music, was postponed and may be reworked into a different event for October.
“We had a festival all planned ready to go, poised and everything, and COVID-19 hit,” Harper said.
The organization was working with the local school system on its jobs program, too. Now it’s on pause due to the uncertainty surrounding what will happen with the school year this fall. However, the organization also plans to continue doing work with the local school system when possible.
They’re even looking at supporting a new nonprofit cat rescue founded by Hill, the group’s secretary, among other endeavors.
The group needs volunteers, and welcomes people to get involved. Currently the organization is working out of the Affairs of the Family building on Gillis Hill Road.
For more information, call the Rockfish Community Chamber of Commerce at (910) 479-4775.
Rockfish also has a long-running community volunteer board that meets monthly, and which is unrelated to the Rockfish Community Chamber. Harper said that the two organizations had some “fundamental disagreements” that led to the Rockfish Chamber going in its own direction. For more information on the volunteer community board, visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/rockfishboard.