Nate Monroe / Houma Courier
Ricky Felio is quick to credit others for the work done renovating a new building for The Haven, a nonprofit agency serving Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes that offers support to victims of family violence and sexual assault.
But ask officials with the nonprofit, and they will tell you the 56-year-old volunteer is “singly responsible” for the renovations and fundraising for their new building, which was completed in August.
“He gave months of his time, putting his blood, sweat and tears into it,” said Julie Pellegrin, The Haven’s executive director. “He was there every day.”
The agency decided to name the shelter’s counseling wing after Felio in appreciation of his efforts and dedication to The Haven.
“I’m proud to have my name on that counseling wing. It really humbled me,” Felio said. “Believe me, I stand on a lot of people’s shoulders. A lot of people stepped up to the plate.”
Felio, a Houma resident, retired from the oil industry after he was severely burned in a house explosion about 20 years ago.
He came home from work in the early morning, walked in and lit a cigarette, unaware there was a gas leak in the house. The small spark caused an explosion that destroyed the house and left Felio covered with second- and third-degree burns. He said investigators were never able to determine the cause of the gas leak.
It took 22 surgeries to recover, he said, and his extensive time in the hospital gave him time to think.
“I have some physical disabilities, but I try not to let that get in the way of things I enjoy,” he said. “You can feel sorry for yourself, or you can get up and do something.”
Felio said he became determined to help people. He got involved with The Haven about 10 years ago, and he has been a board member for about four years.
He has seen women come to the agency’s doors with black eyes and children who have been traumatized.
“As I learned more and more about it, I came to realize how much a need there is for a place like The Haven,” he said. “When you see it up close and personal, you take it personal. If there’s anything I can do to change things, to break that cycle of domestic violence, I would do it.”
With the help of a $100,000 donation from BP, The Haven was able to buy a 4,400-square-foot building last year. The agency had previously been housed in a building that was more than two decades old and had high maintenance costs. The new building was about twice as large, but it was in need of substantial renovations.
Felio coordinated the renovations and, with the help of Terrebonne jail trusties, completed the work in about five months. Trusties are inmates who through good behavior earn the ability to carry out special tasks outside the jail.
Felio said receipts from the time he spent on the renovations show he made more than 230 trips to local hardware stores.
Pellegrin said Felio also raised about $60,000 in donations to help pay for the work.
“It would have never been the facility it is without his dedication to it,” she said.
Now, Felio spends his time helping out with day-to-day tasks around the office, whether it’s unclogging a toilet or changing a light bulb.
“Because he provides all those services for free, it allows us to provide services to victims better,” Pellegrin said. “He saves us thousands.”
Though Felio is officially retired, he has adopted his volunteer work as a full-time job.
“Anything they need, they’ll call,” he said. “This is what I do.”
The Haven’s mission is to empower these individuals to live safe, independent and violence-free lives. It is the only overnight shelter in the area that provides a safe haven for abused women and their families.
The Haven also provides a 24-hour crisis line, legal advocacy, parenting classes, counseling and group sessions. The nonprofit collects no fees for its services and never denies a client or puts them on a wait list.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship and needs help, call The Haven at 1-888-411-1333.
Staff Writer Nate Monroe can be reached at 448-7639 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.