Stone Mountain Jack and Jill celebrates 30 years

Jack and Jill’s participants in the first Junior Youth Cluster Conference. Photos provided

Jack and Jill’s participants in the first Junior Youth Cluster Conference. Photos provided

In 1987 Black families made up a small percentage of Stone Mountain’s population. To assure that their children had cultural experiences relevant to their heritage as well as leadership development opportunities Black mothers in the area formed a chapter of Jack and Jill, an organization created in 1938 to provide Black children cultural, educational and social experiences that might otherwise not be available to them.

The process of forming a Stone Mountain chapter started with a group of 10 women who met in February 1985 in the home of lrmogene Alexander to gauge interest in forming a Jack and Jill chapter. Before the group could become official there had to be a minimum number of members and a sponsoring chapter. By 1987, both requirements had been met with 26 charter members on board and Atlanta’s North Suburban chapter agreeing to sponsor Stone Mountain chapter. 

This year, the Stone Mountain chapter of Jack and Jill celebrates its 30th anniversary and although the demographics of the area have changed—DeKalb County is now more than 50 percent Black—members say the organization continues to be relevant.

“In the 1930s in most places in the United States—especially in the South—it was difficult even for relatively affluent Black families to find nurturing cultural and recreational experiences for their children,” noted Adria Welcher, professor of sociology at Morehouse College and current president of the Stone Mountain Jack and Jill chapter. “Obviously, a lot has changed, but there still is a need to be sure our children see their cultural heritage in a positive light and learn to care for  and uplift their communities,” she said.

“It’s really more important than ever,” commented Dee Taylor, a charter member and past president of the chapter. “Organizations such as Jack and Jill make our children part of a cultural network that strengthens them and the community as a whole.”

Michelle Cook, a history professor at the University of Georgia who is the chapter’s historian, said that even though racial segregation is officially a relic of the past, some Black children many find themselves in environments where there are no other children who share their ethnicity. 

Steen Miles, Jack and Jill’s third president, gives students a tour of WXIA-TV’s television station.

Steen Miles, Jack and Jill’s third president, gives students a tour of WXIA-TV’s television station.

“Jack and Jill provides a safe space for youngsters to learn about and talk about their cultural heritage. One of the great things about Jack and Jill is that the members choose the programs. They decide what their children need and what their community needs and build the chapter around those needs,” Cook said. “Over the years we’ve provided an exciting testament to what’s possible.”

The organization’s membership is composed of mothers with children between the ages of 2 and 19, although many, like Taylor, continue as associate members after their children become adults. There also is a father’s auxiliary that not only supports the programs of the main organization, but has its own programs.

Michelle Staes, has experienced multigenerational involvement in Jack and Jill. Her mother, Ruth Saunders, was among the chapter’s organizers. “Many African-American women in Stone Mountain at the time felt isolated as did their children. Through Jack and Jill we participated in such activities as making posters in support of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday,” she said. “My dad was active as well. We were a Jack and Jill family.”

The legacy of Ruth Saunders, who died last year, has lived on in the family generations that followed her. “When I went to Spelman, there were young women I already knew through Jack and Jill conventions. My son had a similar experience when he went to college,” Staes continued. 

A Breakfast With Santa for the Boys and Girls Club of East DeKalb served more than 50 children and provided entertainment and cookie decorating along with a visit from Mr. Claus.

A Breakfast With Santa for the Boys and Girls Club of East DeKalb served more than 50 children and provided entertainment and cookie decorating along with a visit from Mr. Claus.

Welcher said there misconceptions about Jack and Jill that she continually as to correct. “Many people think we only welcome members in a certain socio-economic strata. It’s true that there are membership fees and members are expected to participate financially and through volunteer work in many activities. That might place a burden on someone with a tight budget, but we have no educational or professional requirements for membership.

“Some think we are a purely social organization. Actually, our main focus is community service. We provide leadership training for our children as we teach them to service in the community. At the same time we enrich the lives of children in the community whose mothers are not members,” Welcher said.

“There is a social aspect,” she noted. “Members become very close as we work together and we give support when those in the Jack and Jill family experience health issues or loss in the family.” 

At the April 8 funeral service of charter member and former chapter president Steen Miles speakers included another associate member, LaVerne Carter, who headed the teen program during Miles’ presidency. Carter recalled both Miles dedication to the organization and her personal warmth and generosity.

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