OCC art professor wins humanitarian award

Irini Rickerson has a heart for people.

The Orange Coast College art professor does her part when earthquakes strike or hurricanes hit, and when a former student died of AIDS, she started a benefit to support others suffering from the virus.

"When there is a need, I jump into action," said Rickerson, 60, her English accented from growing up in Athens and returning there every summer. "If I see something that there is a need, I don't want to wait, form a committee, agree with a committee. I jump on and I know I have a lot of support."

Rickerson's devotion was recognized May 16 by OCC's Extended Opportunity, Programs and Services (EOPS) with its first Humanitarian of the Year award.

EOPS Honors Club student Un Joo Kang, who coordinated the event, said Rickerson has done so much in her life. Although not Rickerson's student, Kang heard about "this wonderful woman" and got to know her.

"She's such a mentor to me," Kang said. "She has such a nurturing, motherly way about her."

Rickerson started the AIDS Benefit 21 years ago after a Hoag Hospital nurse called to tell her that a former student, Aaron, wanted to see her.

She had gotten to know Aaron well through classes, but she hadn't seen him in five years. Still, she immediately went to the hospital and went back every day throughout Aaron's last month.

"I went to find him and I couldn't even recognize him," she said. "He was a very good-looking guy — very good-looking — but he looked like a skeleton."

Through the benefit, Rickerson has supported student scholarships, a rehabilitation facility, toys for children impacted with AIDS, and clothes and shoes for residents of a now-closed Los Angeles shelter for homeless suffering from AIDS.

Rickerson has also gone to action for people all over — from the other side of the globe to right on her Costa Mesa campus.

"She's been so generous in giving," said student Ann Marie Hoang. "It just shows her character."

Rickerson's desire to help started at a young age. She felt a "sincere love" for others, and her parents taught her the importance of caring.

"I remember my dad always saying, 'It's very important that you treat your gardener the same way you would treat the king or the president,'" she said. "He taught us respect."

Rickerson is trying to teach her students the same lesson and give them the opportunity to put it to action.

"People want to make a difference," she said. "I do believe it. People, when they have the opportunity, they want to make a difference."


Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

Interested in helping?

Contact Irini Rickerson at ivrick@occ.cccd.edu

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