You might know Larkin Stallings and his wife Jackie from the Ritz, their legendary dive bar in Oak Bluffs. It’s time to meet his lesser-known side — the one who heads up the Oak Bluffs Association, and is on the board of directors for M.V. Community Services and for Vineyard House.
Stallings grew up with humble beginnings in a family that put community service first. His parents were Quakers, Stallings explained over a cup of coffee at the family home on the Vineyard Haven side of the Lagoon. They divorced when he was 10, but both parents continued to play an active role in the community.
“My father worked for the American Friends Service Committee, and my mom remained active in the Quaker Society. She was a single mom with four kids, and she was a nursery school teacher, but she was still involved in everything. She told me the most important vote you’ll ever make is for your local school board.”
After growing up in Northern California, Stallings moved to Texas in 1978 to attend college, and that’s where he met Jackie in 1987. He was in the restaurant and nightclub business there for decades, and still goes back to check on his projects.
“When I got out of college, I was mostly interested in making money,” Stallings said. “Then I sobered up 29 years and 5 days ago, through an organization where part of the recovery process included service.” Ten years into sobriety, Stallings got involved in bringing addiction recovery into the Harris County Jail in Houston.
“For 10 years I went twice a week and worked with guys in the jail and guys out of the jail, and got deeply involved with the sheriff’s department, attorneys, and a bunch of men and women working hard to help with substance use disorder and with addiction. I stayed with it for 10 years. It started with a couple of hours a week, and it grew, and I discovered quickly that I always left with way more than I came with. Not only was it helping me stay sober, but it also added so much to my life.
“The friends I made are crazy cool — on both sides, the guys volunteering and the guys in the jailhouse we interacted with. It was across-the-board a good experience, and I could see where my mom and my dad were coming from.”
Stallings’ whole family, Jackie and the four kids included, helped out after Hurricane Katrina by making their way to the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, which ended up receiving thousands of Katrina evacuees.
“My whole family volunteered, and were there when the buses arrived,” Stallings remembered. “You can’t imagine it — people coming in their underwear, covered in mud. We got assigned the job of escorting kids to the playroom, taking families or a couple through. First things first was a medical checkup. Bill White [then mayor of Houston] actually solved the healthcare problem in America. You walked into George R. Brown, where there were volunteer doctors. They asked about their meds, wrote scripts. There were four pharmacies in the building, and there was an acre of clothes folded up. It was nuts. My point is that just like here on the Island, when we need it, people show up. No matter what your politics, everyone lends a hand.”
On the Island, Stallings says he’s been inspired by so many others who give to the community in so many ways. He said he’s had many talks with his neighbor, Victor Capoccia, about ways to help those dealing with substance use disorder on the Island. After so much discussion, Capoccia asked Stallings if he’d consider joining the board of directors of M.V. Community Services. He said no at first, Stallings laughed, but then he agreed, and that was his first dive into direct service work on the Island.
“When I first opened the Ritz, Victor and I had been talking, and he has been deeply involved in healthcare delivery, mental health delivery and substance use disorder,” Stallings said. “He’s a scientist — super-bright and super-committed to finding better ways to deliver healthcare. We talked a lot, and had lots of good conversations about addiction.”
Stallings said the work that Community Services does is more complex than he anticipated, and that “every soul involved is committed to its mission.” He says he’s “an old bar guy” who has a bachelor’s degree in business, and yet he gets to spend a lot of time with people who are more than qualified and very bright, educated folks. “We have good, deep conversations, and I’ve made lifelong friendships. I’m getting way more than I put in.”
Stallings also credits Kelly Feirtag and Rose Guerin, two women who were working at the Ritz several years ago, who asked him why he didn’t have photos of female performers up on the walls at the bar. He asked them what he could do to make it right, and they came up with Ladyfest, an annual music and performance event held in the fall, with proceeds going to Connect to End Violence, a MVCS program. Stallings works on that event as well.
Through his work on the MVCS board, Stallings met John Kennedy, who was also serving on that board. Through Kennedy, he found his way onto the board of Vineyard House, the sober living facility for folks in early recovery on the Island.
“One of the things I stay close to is recovery conversations,” Stallings said. “On every nonprofit, I somehow end up on the finance committee. But that’s cool. I think that service work is doing what needs to be done. All of us, everybody, shows up and what needs to be done gets done.”
For Stallings, the Oak Bluffs Association is something that can help the town become as vibrant and as inclusive as it can be. His leading role in the business community also keeps him busy.
“The OBA is something I really care about,” he says. “I really care about O.B., and I own a business in O.B. Look, the Ritz will thrive with or without me, it’s not so much about the success of the Ritz, but building something that helps the town.”
Larkin and Jackie, a Mexican-American from Texas, were deeply involved in the migrant situation on Martha’s Vineyard back in September. Jackie was a translator for the Venezuelans who found themselves relocated to the Island from Texas.
Stallings remembered being at the Ritz having dinner with Jackie when he learned that a planeload of migrants had arrived. He texted Beth Folcarelli, executive director at Community Services, and she told them the refugees would eventually be going to St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown. She asked if he knew anyone who spoke Spanish and Larkin said, “I’m sitting right here with one — my wife.” They headed to the church, and jumped in right along with the rest of the volunteers, helping to make the newcomers comfortable when they arrived. The migrants were eventually moved off-Island, but Stallings and his wife keep in touch with some of them still, visiting with them around Thanksgiving and staying in contact.
Stallings’ take on volunteering in the community includes working with each other to problem-solve: “Not me, not you, but all of us together can solve a little bit of a problem here and there.”
Larkin and Jackie are two of the best people! Grateful for all they do to support our Island community!
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