Women Who Walk the Talk

As a centering exercise, Janet Donohue asked us to think back to our own early teen or young adult days and remember our early experiences with service, and then share these memories with an audience member that we didn’t know. After several minutes of sharing, Janet commented on our reluctance to end illustrating that WTB is a place to develop friendships and community and knowledge of one another. Many women felt that their early experiences of service were with parents or were influenced by parents’ example. One woman, remembering being a recipient, appreciated the thoughtfulness of the holiday basket givers, who took the time to learn the family’s needs and included just the right items for a single mom going to school and a young girl and a young boy. Danya reminded us that our teen group is also involved in service. Other women expressed the concern that so much service is necessary and advocated social change to eliminate poverty.

Betsy Wiggins spoke briefly about our on-going commitment to Ibtida, which means “new beginnings.” It is a volunteer-based, non-religious, non-political, non-profit organization working to provide quality education to underprivileged children in the rural areas of Pakistan. Ibtida was set up in 2003 by a group of individuals who share the belief that the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and ignorance is through education. It now operates four schools. Betsy introduced Nancy Riffer, a Syracuse resident who is on the Board of Ibtida. Nancy explained that in order to comply with 501(c)3 regulations, they were required to have an American component to their program; therefore, a small amount of the money they raise goes to H.W. Smith School, where a program helps refugee children learn English. She added that American high school and college students spend 4 to 6 weeks teaching in Ibtida schools during the summer.

We also continue our commitment to Women for Women, which recently won the 2006 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest humanitarian prize of $1.5 million. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation presents the annual award to an organization that “significantly alleviates human suffering.” Founded in 1993, Women for Women International helps women in war-torn regions rebuild their lives by providing financial and emotional support, job skills training, rights awareness and leadership education, and access to business skills, capital and markets. Through the program, women become confident, independent and productive as they embrace the importance of their roles in rebuilding their families, their communities, and ultimately their nations. They work in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan. WTB has committed to sponsoring one Sudanese woman. Our letters to her, written by Nancy Sullivan Murray, and her responses to us will be published on our website. Individual WTB members are also sponsoring women and may have their correspondence published as well, if they wish.

Gay introduced Liz Spence, who first introduced Chadwick Residence to the WTB community. Chadwick takes in homeless women and their children, providing vocational training and life skills for up to two years. Liz and Gay updated the membership on our recent activities at Chadwick Residence. We have held two ethnic cooking classes/feasts, attended by 17 Chadwick women, several children, and several WTB members. Our able cook for both dinners was Sharon Benzel. Bonnie Savage taught a counted cross-stitch class that tested everyone’s concentration, and a week later several women proudly showed us the progress that they had made. On December 5 we will hold a sewing class, making a patchwork pillow cover. Volunteers are needed to help – socializing is fun, and more important than the actual craft skills. In addition, Jennifer Crittenden scours local estate sales to find items needed by the Chadwick ladies, and Janet (a drug and alcohol counselor) works with the women who have “graduated” from Chadwick but still need guidance.

Gay discussed the “Knitting Together” program at the Center for New Americans (formerly the InterReligious Council Refugee Resettlement Program) located at Prospect and Butternut Streets above the bank. Recently 73 new arrivals came to Syracuse with practically nothing, so their material needs are great. Several WTB members have organized the knitting program to provide a casual environment for refugee women to mingle and practice English skills, as well as learn a useful craft. A soup and sandwich lunch is provided, and instruction on basic life skills such as hygiene, cleaning, and food storage is included. What was started as a four-week program stretched to fifteen last spring. New fall classes have started, with the class constantly expanding with new women attending. The class meets on Thursdays from noon to 2 pm, and volunteers are most welcome for single visits or an on-going basis.

Liz introduced Carol Perry, the owner/ manager of the South Side Newsstand, which is the hub of an incredible variety of community projects. Carol is a community activist who creates projects that uplift and affirm the souls of the participants, as well as the neighborhood. She uses the phrase, “Raise up the children in the way they should go!”

Carol said she was inspired by her mother who always had “stow-aways” that she was secretly feeding or taking to the hospital or social services. Even during what Carol called “the reckless period of my life,” she was reaching out to help others. When she heard Dave Johnson, a Presbyterian Director, say that “whatever knocks at our door – we service it,” she liked the sentiment and decided to do the same. Carol gave credit to the people who mentored her to do right, to make herself available, and to stay healthy so she can serve: Phyllis Newland, Hope Wallis (a rainbow), Rosa Menara (my warrior), Ann Goodgin and Jackie Grace. Carol believes that when someone comes with a problem, “you just gotta do it.” God has given her blessings that she must pass on.

One special program is called the Refrigerator Door Club, named for the variety of memos and appointments and awards and kids drawings that are displayed on most people’s fridges. Carol organizes friendship gathering circles called “Making Friends” as an alternative to violence. She gathers seven boys, seven girls, two professionals and one street person, spanning the ages 7 to 70. They learn about differences and about what hurts. It is a diverse, multigenerational group that helps youth learn how to meet someone different from themselves and have fun together coloring individual pages about relationships, AIDS information, and careers. They also learn how to introduce one another and practice conversing. Participants create ice cream sundaes, eat them together, and share about their new friends. Through these gatherings, Carol learns about people’s disfunctions and new groups are born – penmanship, children of prison inmates, and so on. Carol is adept at helping Syracuse school children with after-school activities, volunteer work, and outings.

Carol has an active jail ministry, seeing inmates at the Syracuse Justice Center, Jamesville, Auburn, and Cayuga. Teaming up with probation officers, she learns about family problems and the needs of the family members. She arranges for diapers or social services for an inmate’s family. She tries to help incarcerated women and asked us to provide Christmas, Mother’s Day, Easter cards, and stamps, as well as calendars, to show inmates that the world cares about them.

Carol described her work with seniors as “my best.” She reintroduces them to life and promotes fun. She organizes gatherings at the Country Buffet, and the seniors treat the outing like a night club where they like to dance and party. She also matches them up with kids, or takes them to nursing homes. Carol plans a breakfast club where to attend you must bring someone over 70. She signs seniors up as tutors and as volunteers at Meals on Wheels. Carol said “God has blessed me with the seniors” and “I just love what I do.”

One year the director of the City Hall turkey project unexpectedly sent Carol a skid of turkeys

to distribute to poor people. She was busy, didn’t have time, didn’t want to be bothered but had all of these frozen birds! When she decided to distribute them to her family and friends, her brother took over and opened her eyes when he took her along to distribute to people in real need, people she didn’t know existed.

Carol and her community volunteers collect and distribute school supplies to 3000 city students. Some are given directly to students, others are given directly to schools to dispense as needed, perhaps a few sheets of paper at a time. She spoke of Cleary school which does not have enough books. Dunk and Bright supplies them with paper for photocopying. Carol and her volunteers also supply tissues, bandaids, and hand sanitizer to eight city elementary schools. The high schools have received binders and health/grooming packages.

Last summer Carol sent 12 kids to camp. Some of these children had never been out of their neighborhoods, never had s’mores, hadn’t been seen by a doctor in years as evidenced by lack of medication and old injuries. Carol would like all of her programs to be free, and sponsors to help her achieve this goal frequently appear. The Department of Environmental Conservation gave her six free spots for campers. The Presbyterian church found sponsors. Dick Ford, the owner of Signature Music near Westcott, gave a city boy, a great drummer from one of the worst neighborhoods, a scholarship to Ithaca College’s summer music camp.

Carol runs a 501(c)3 charity, a pass-through with the Southwest Community Center, which provides her with accounting services, a secretary, and occasionally a vehicle. What does Carol need? She needs strength, volunteers, people to make deliveries, a shoulder to lean on, someone to do paperwork like thank you letters and permission slips, time out (a friend with a pool would be a blessing).

Carol does everything. Any need anyone has, if they come to Miss Carol she will figure out a way to help them. Carol calls on an amazing array of community members, city officials, ministers, bankers and businessmen and can match anyone up with a solution.

Gay introduced Karaline Carr, a program counselor who directs transportation for On Point for College. On Point is a Syracuse based not-for-profit organization which helps inner city students get into college. It was founded in 1999 by Ginny Donohue, but due to the birth of a grandchild she was unable to be with us. On Point for College’s motto is “Changing Syracuse degree by degree!”

Ginny and her two program counselors (with help from volunteer mentors) meet and recruit youth at various community centers, including Carol Perry’s South Side Newsstand, Catholic Charities’ neighborhood centers, Syracuse Boys and Girls Clubs, Southwest Community Center, Salvation Army’s Barnabas House, and Dunbar, encouraging young people who thought college was not possible for them. Most are the first in their families to attend college. Since 80% of their clients are no longer in school, the On-Point staff becomes their guidance counselor, assuring them that past grades matter less than current determination and commitment. They find that young men frequently come to them when they are 20 to 22, disillusioned with their current prospects. Some of their students begin as Carol’s referral of young adults on probation.

Karaline told the story of a young man who had been dealing drugs to make money for his family and was twice hospitalized for dehydration. Although he had managed to get a GED after dropping out of high school, he thought his poor grades would exclude him from attending college. Ginny worked with him and helped him enroll in a college where he achieved a 4.0 GPA for four years, graduated, and is now working in the Syracuse community.

To qualify for On Point assistance, students must be between 17 and 25 years of age and have been economically qualified for the New York State free or reduced lunch program. Ginny and her staff arrange college visits and assist in filling out college applications and the financial aid and loan forms. On Point for College runs Success Seminars and Pre-College Orientation workshops for the students, teaching them how to interview, how to study, how to drop the street attitude that has always protected them in tough neighborhoods. When they are accepted at a college, On Point for College provides students with basic college supplies such as bedding, towels, and alarm clocks, and a $150 mall shopping trip for appropriate student-selected clothing.

Once on campus, students can call On Point for College counselors at any time, giving them an outlet when problems arise. If students have trouble paying for books, they can receive “last dollar scholarships.” If they need to leave school for a semester, On Pont will help them do it without jeopardizing their readmission. And someone from On Point for College will attend their graduation.

So far, On Point has enrolled over 950 students in college. While many students attend State of New York Universities (SUNY), students also attend different private colleges and universities, totaling a network of over 130 colleges and universities across several states. This past May marked the graduation of On Point for College’s 100th college graduate.

When students agree to work with On Point for College, they sign a contract that while they are in college they will assist with younger students who are visiting their campus for the first time, and will help two young people after they graduate. Two of these recent graduates came to WTB with Karaline. Lillian Turner had a 3.26 GPA at Colgate and is now working at the Blue Cross / Blue Shield call center and today is considering the pursuit of a masters degree in nursing. Lillian came from a loving family that didn’t have the means to provide transportation to college. Lillian was able to take advantage of On Point’s partnership with Lemoyne College that allows students to stay in their residences during the summer if it is not possible to stay in the student’s own home. She worked in the On Point for College office and saw the staffs’ dedication to all of its students. At her graduation she bestowed a Stole of Thankfulness on Ginny.

Shawnta Brantly received a degree in nursing from SUNY Delhi and is now working at Upstate. Shawnta was the first in her family to graduate from high school, and she received On Point for College help with transportation, books and moral support when they called to check up on her. She considers the On Point for College staff her guardian angels.

What does On Point need? Volunteers for transportation. Kids must contact On Point at least seven days in advance of need (for orientation, beginning and end of semester, dorm closings, not weekends home). On Point for College emails mentors who respond if available, then the office makes the contacts. Students and volunteer drivers sometimes make long-term relationships, traveling together whenever possible. Mentor breakfasts are held every three months, and the agency carries umbrella insurance to cover drivers above and beyond personal insurance. If several students are attending the same college, Catholic Charities or Southwest Community Center or Boys and Girls Club sometimes provide a van. In 2005, volunteers made 283 campus trips. Thanksgiving is their busiest time of year.

Other needs:

– Tutors
– Donations (both monetary and in-kind supplies of basic college supplies
– People to work at fund raisers
– Employers who will commit to job fairs
– People to run sessions on how to dress, write resumes, interview

A complete set of college supplies includes comforter, set of extra-long sheets, towels, backpack, alarm clock, calculator, and shampoo, etc.

Carol Perry told us that Karaline has been with On Point for four years and considers the students her kids who mean everything to her. The respect and affection between Carol and Karaline was obvious as they discussed the young people that they have both worked to help.

Gay summed up the afternoon by commenting that these women have jobs that feed their souls and reminded us of the words of Anne Frank: “Nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”