The Chicago Chapter Story
The year was 1947, the occasion being the 2nd National Convention hosted by the Columbus, Ohio Chapter. A group of young “matrons” from the “Windy City” determined and resolute brought forth a request to join an organization that fit the needs of their families and fostered the nurturing of their children. Thus, the National Executive Committee was authorized to explain the responsibilities of membership to a dynamic group of young mothers. Under the direction of charter members Isabelle Gibson, Myrtle Sengstacke, Evelyn Spencer, Lois Lowe, Evelyn Shropshire, Rosa Morgan, Harrietta Matthews, Mae Wethers, Lydia Davis, Adeline Morris, Enid Turner and Kate Whitefield, National President, Dorothy B Wright welcomed Chicago as the eleventh chapter and presented the charter to Isabelle Gibson, its first president.
The chapter began to grow from the small group of approximately thirty-nine. As children’s activities were being planned, so were thoughts given to expanding the teen program in anticipation of the chapter’s growth. In 1955, Chicago Chapter hosted the 10th National Convention. The chapter played a major role when voting for the Regional Plan for the organization and the establishment of regions and the regional teen conferences.
In the 50’s, the Chicago Chapter put forth a conscientious effort to give back to the community and to plan great family activities. Volunteer hours were given to Provident Hospital by parents and children alike. Small Christmas tokens were made by the primary groups in the chapter for the children’s ward and the teens purchased gifts for the young hospital patients out of their allowances. Grandmothers joined their grandchildren for a “ Jack and Jill Day” family picnic in the woods. Chicago hosted the 1956 Teen Regional Conference. The theme was the “Teenager and his community.”
In the 60’s and 70’s the Chicago Chapter developed programs and raised funds for mental health and the NAACP “Freedom Fund.” The children became involved in service projects that benefited hospitals and outside agencies that cared for children who were without homes. As well as projects relating to Civil Rights, Arnita Boswell, of Chicago Chapter was appointed Chairman of a National Service Project, which partnered Jack and Jill with the National Urban League.
As the National Organization continued to adopt numerous projects the idea of “having our own” project or giving arm surfaced. In response to this idea, Jetta Jones, Esq. became the attorney of record responsible for researching the legal work required for the establishment of a national foundation. In 1968, she served as legal counsel for the establishment of the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, which was incorporated in the State of Illinois.
Through the years, the Chicago Chapter continued to plan creative activities for the children such as the annual ski trip, “white glove” etiquette training, cultural trips to the opera, Chicago Symphony, Kwanzaa celebrations and Rites of Passage and social outings and parties. Programming that has created a strong legacy of friendship amongst our children and educational experiences that last a lifetime.
Through our service projects and “hands on” activities, we are committed to addressing issues that affect our local communities and the national community. Chicago Chapter’s commitment to serving the broader community is reflected in the projects done by the children and teens with the goal of teaching our children that” to whom much is given, much is expected.” To this end over, the chapter has a number of signature service projects over the
years. In the 80’s the chapter actively support the Ronald McDonald house with many “hands on” volunteer hours. The chapter children volunteered a Bryn Mawr Church, preparing food and clothing for distribution to the needy. Annually the Chapter participates in the UNCF walk-a-thon, it is an all-family event with moms, dads, children and extended family coming out to support the effort and show family spirit. The teens have been volunteering every month at the Hyde Park Food Pantry for over 10 years. Four years ago, a Literacy Program, “Read to Me” was developed and funded by the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, Inc. The program was conceived and developed by Monica Morrow and Marie Williams. Once in place another educator Dawn Prather- Hawk became a volunteer coordinator. These mothers are experienced educators who develop monthly literacy activities for the children of Claremont Academy. These activities are conducted by our teens monthly with the children of the school. They work individually with primary-grade students; they build relationships with the children while participating in reading-related games and activities. The children are provided with books to take home in order to build their home libraries. Continuing the focus on children, teens and mothers have adopted the children’s waiting room in family court, decorating the spring bulletin board, providing art supplies and an aquarium. They also
decorate the Children’s Waiting room in family court. These projects have earned the chapter a number of awards in the Martin Luther King Service category at Teen Regional.
Over the years, the Chapter has received many awards for its participation at Teen Regional conferences. Our teen group has brought home many 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards for the creative exhibits, scrapbooks and t-shirts developed. At the 50th Teen Regional Conference in Dayton, the teens won 1st place for their “hot air” balloon exhibit that was most creative for depicting the conference theme.
Support for those less fortunate has come not only from “hands on,” volunteering but also from the annual scholarships given to students who excel but do not have the financial means to afford college. Through the annual fundraiser the chapter has given over a half million dollars in scholarships over the past twenty years. Those fundraisers are key to the ability to give back to the community from the days of “putting on the Ritz” with Ben Vereen and Harry Belafonte, to the 60th Anniversary Gala, the annual fundraiser has provided the monies to fund the community philanthropic work the chapter has done.
Programming, service and leadership area all characteristics of the past 60 years of the Chicago Chapter, our children learn by example and we point with pride at the leaders from our chapter who has served in National and Regional positions both mothers and teens. Our members elected to the position of Mid-Western Regional Director, Georgia Williams, Suellen Gleason Hurt, Sharon Eubanks-Pope and Linda Murrain accepted that leadership challenge. Each with her own unique style left a positive mark on the region and its teens. Each Regional Director represents one of the past four decades. The Chicago Chapter can also boast of having more elected Regional Teen Presidents than any other chapter in the Mid-Western Region. We salute Raleigh Mims, Dr. Rhonda Gans, Anthony Anderson, Christopher Rhone, Aimee Eubanks, Robert Yunkins, O. Elliot Pope and Ryan Kennedy as our teen leaders.
We are proud of our children who have also excelled while supporting J&J programs, Chicago Chapter’s Kathryn Beverly, age 15, a sophomore at Kenwood Academy won a nation wide essay competition during the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Philadelphia at the Dorothy B Wright breakfast. We are proud of our members who accepted the challenge to serve on the National Executive Board, Georgia Williams, National Recording Secretary, Sharon Eubanks-Pope, National Treasurer and Suellen Gleason Hurt, National Recording Secretary and National Parliamentarian.
Since its installation in 1947, the Chicago Chapter continues its diligent work toward its goals. The chapter theme, “Enhancing the lives of our children through organizational and programming excellence” has been the foundation for building chapter operations and innovative programming under the leadership of then Chapter President, Vynessa Alexander. As the chapter moves into the 21st century, the programming for the family is rooted in unique and different experiences, leadership development and financial literacy. All of these are the skills and experiences our children will need, as they grow.
The Chicago chapter is preparing for its 65th anniversary in 2012. The chapter began our 65th year with worship and brunch with our current members and our beloved associates. We successfully raised a record amount for our foundation donation through our annual fundraiser “Funky Fitness”, a night of fitness classes, a silent auction and dancing!
Under our past president, Adrianne Bryant-Roberts, our chapter of 120 mothers, has developed strong sister-friends, managed the business of providing our children with the best opportunities and made an impact in our community. As we look back on our achievements with pride we are reminded that there is still much to do. The growth of the chapter has indeed been significant, but the real measure of growth is not in the increased numbers of members but in the impact we have made on the lives of children, youth, parents and the community.
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