OKOLONA – The mission of the National Council of Negro Women, Okolona Chapter is to lead, develop and advocate for families and youth of the community and the women in the civic group take their role seriously.
The group hosts a multitude of educational and character-building programs in and around Okolona, forming partnerships with other civic and educational groups along the way.
“We’ll partner with anyone who’ll let us,” joked section president Mary Gates. “We do the Martin Luther King breakfast, the debutante Easter parade, voter registration and the annual tea.”
And that’s just scratching the surface.
The group also sponsors Toys and Turkeys during the Christmas season, providing five less fortunate families with presents and food.
“It jumped from a turkey to a food box,” said Stelle Ivy. “It’s a full meal.”
Emphasis on education
Many of the programs sponsored or promoted by the group are educational in nature. The NCNW members volunteer in the schools, reading to children and mentoring teens. They have participated in the “Read Across Okolona” program that celebrates the books of Dr. Seuss and provided backpacks and school supplies to children. The group has sponsored an annual oral hygiene program at Okolona Elementary School and also hosts workshops for teens.
“We have a male initiative,” Gates said. “We’re trying to teach young men how to be fathers. We have a workshop on teen pregnancy and on etiquette.”
When the NCNW was founded, one of the original platforms put a focus on unwed mothers.
“It still is,” Gates said, pointing out the ongoing need for educational programs for youth and teens.
Even with their presence in the local public schools, Gates wants to do more.
“We need to get more involved with the school,” Gates said. “I’d like to see that this year be our focus.”
Juanita Head is a member of the NCNW and was on the receiving end of one of the educational programs.
“I was able to go to summer school on scholarship,” Head said of a grant she received from the NCNW, Okolona Chapter, while she was in college. “It was my second year in school.”
After graduation, Head returned to Okolona to teach high school English until her retirement.
Recognition for community service
While the NCNW provides many programs of community service, they also take time to recognize others who extend a hand in the area. At the annual Humanitarian banquet, they present awards for extraordinary commitment to education, leadership, civic dedication, community service and volunteerism. They also recognize an emergent leader from the student body of Okolona High School and sponsor the senior honors breakfast and awards program.
They receive input from members of the community for the awards presentations.
“Our committee makes recommendations by talking to people in the community,” Head said.
New members welcome
The group meets the third Saturday of each month at the Okolona Carnegie Library. They have about 32 active members at present and welcome more.
“We have had 55 and up,” Head said. “We’re recruiting now (to build the group). We’re trying very hard.”
The group has a full calendar of annual activities and is always looking for another avenue to help in the community. Such a busy schedule could be wearing but the organization’s members feel they are making a difference.
“Jesus gives us strength,” Ivy said.
Head said the programs and activities of the group are, “too many to name,” but that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
“You go home and pray and God gives you the strength to come back again,” Head said.