When David Potter was a teenager living with his grandparents, he was unsure about what career path he should take. Potter grew up with humble beginnings in Pikeville, Ky., and was destined to become a third generation coal miner. He said the mining town did not have many opportunities, and with his friend heading down the wrong path, he began to think about his own career path.
“When it came time for me to choose a career path, I really thought about how I grew up,” Potter said. “Throughout elementary and high school, I was involved in sports and different programs, and I basically saw how being involved in extracurricular activities kept me on the right path.”
Potter studied both Parks and Recreation and Police Administration but was unsure if which one to take. A conversation with a police officer who told him that if he could reach at-risk youth before they end up in trouble with the police helped him to make up his mind. He went on to receive a degree in Parks and Recreation and is currently the Bensley Community Building supervisor for Chesterfield County’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
Once the Assistant Director of Pike County Child Development in Kentucky; Potter, along with his wife, Dena, relocated to Virginia and he accepted his current position in 2005. He was the third director of the building, and he worked quickly enhancing the programs and creating more consistency. This resulted in him being recognized at the end of the year by the Board of Supervisors for leadership in youth and community service projects.
“I hit the ground running in 2005: we adopted [Jefferson Davis Highway], [the youth] did cleanups on Drewry’s Bluff Road,” Potter said,
“They participated in the James River cleanup because it teaches them to respect environment, learn responsibility, see what litter actually causes, and then when the Board of Supervisors recognizes them, it reinforces [that] what we’re doing really does matter and means something.”
The center where Potter works, located in Bensley Park, offers programs like chair aerobics, line dancing, card games, and craft classes for children, youths, and seniors. They also have seasonal events such as their Christmas programs, Halloween events (Family Fright Night), and an Easter egg hunt. Potter said the center serves everyone regardless of socioeconomic background.
“We serve all ages and everyone, everyone is welcome to attend our programs. [Bensley] community center, as well as Ettrick Community Center, are set in areas of the county that are more challenged socioeconomically … to be closer to these individuals that might need the help,” Potter said, “because transportation is an issue [and] many of these kids walk across [Jefferson Davis Highway] from the trailer park or the apartments. But when we’re here, we’re all the same, it doesn’t matter where we come from or what our backgrounds [are]. It doesn’t matter if [you] were supposed to be a coal miner and are now the boss.”
Potter said when he accepted this position, the building was underutilized but within a few years, revenue and participation tripled because of interaction with community.
“When I first accepted this position, I found a very underutilized facility, and when you walk around the building, you’re like ‘Well, you know, it’s just a cinderblock building,’ but once you come inside, you realize that it is full of warmth and smiles,” Potter said. “I work with a fabulous group of people… and the citizens here are phenomenal, [so] it really is an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Chesterfield County. Within about three or four years of taking this position, we tripled our revenue and participation, and that was basically going out in the community, meeting with them, seeing what their needs are, how do we improve this place.”
An improvement to the center came in the form of sports when the tennis courts were repurposed for indoor soccer while the football fields were converted into soccer fields. Potter said he hopes to eventually add a gymnasium so the youths can be more active and involved, and then a stage to the gym for theater and performing arts programs.
Despite the limited opportunities of his hometown, Potter said Pikeville provided him with the values and work ethic he has today. With the success of the Bensley community building and its ever-growing population, he gives credit to the volunteers and mentions their importance to their annual National Night Out event.
“There’s so many people that have made this building flourish that there’s no reason for me to get the credit for it because I’ve got volunteers out here who are here decorating the building every week, bringing in flowers, they are probably the best hot dog cookers and wrappers you’ve ever seen in your life,” Potter said. “Over the last 12 years they’ve probably cooked and wrapped 5,000 hot dogs because we have a big National Night Out that I’m very proud of.”
One of the center’s volunteers is 83-year-old Pat Hupp, who has been volunteering at the center for 22 years and called it her second home. Hupp, who also takes part in the chair exercises offered at the center, said Potter and is helpful to the seniors.
“He is just wonderful, he helps the seniors if we have a little problem – like we can’t get our car started, the lights don’t come on, we can’t find our keys – he just does everything for us seniors,” Hupp said. “Anytime we ask him for anything, he’s right there 100%, he’s like a big brother or big daddy, a father; he’s for all of us here.”
Potter has worked at the community building for 12 years and said he and Dena have grown to love Chesterfield County, and consider it home.
“I think that God has led me most of my life, in the direction that I’ve went, we feel very blessed to live in Chesterfield County,” Potter said. “There are a lot more opportunities and programs here … than where my wife and I are from … so it was a great move for us and we consider ourselves from Chesterfield, Virginia now.”
Potter and his wife both grew up in Pikeville and met in the sixth grade when she was a cheerleader for his school’s opposing team. They started dating as sophomores in high school, and when they were seniors in college, he proposed to her in the same gymnasium where they met as elementary school students. Potter said their history and hardworking nature make their relationship stronger.
“I think our relationship’s stronger because I know where she comes from and how she grew up, she knows how I grew up,” Potter said, “and how we’ve just wanted to improve people’s lives, work hard and do good at the jobs we do.”
After all Potter has accomplished, both personally and with the Bensley community building, Potter discussed how his grandfather felt about the path he chose to take.
“My grandfather was extremely proud of me,” Potter said. “I was the first man [in my family] to graduate from college, and I had a conversation with him once about what should I do, like what career path [should I take], and he said, ‘Well, just do something where … you can help people and make them smile,’ so that’s what this building is, it is a building full of smiles.”