The West Suburban Chicago Chapter of Jack and Jill was spawned by a group of women who identified a common need for their children. They sought a vehicle that would expand their socialization with other Black children while simultaneously reinforcing their ethnic pride. The Jack and Jill of America organization answered that need and offered a program that inspired general growth, development and leadership.
In 1981, after several months of careful planning and recruiting, the Far West Suburban Jays, a provisional chapter of Jack and Jill of America, was established. With forty-five initial members, we had the distinction of being one of the largest provisional chapters ever formed.
Although some of the ten originators of this chapter have moved on to other endeavors and geographical locations, we will always be grateful for their invaluable contributions.
On July 24, 1982, at the Jack and Jill biennial National Convention, our chapter was granted permanent status pending installation. On January 15, 1983, in a very poignant and memorable ceremony, we were formally inducted into Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated.
During the 1980s, the Chapter thrived under the leadership of the following Presidents: Patricia Jackson, Rosemary Colson and Sylvia Norfliss. The importance of community service was emphasized to the members' children. Some of the service projects included: caroling at area hospitals, a sickle-cell bowl-a-thon, Thanksgiving baskets for needy families, Christmas stockings for needy children and a canned-good collection drive for the needy. Fun was never lacking for our children during the ‘80s. Highlights of cultural activities include: trips to DuSable Museum in Chicago, trips to soul food restaurants, visiting the DuPage Underground Railroad, children's plays "The Wiz," trips to orchards, skating outings and trips to athletic events.
The teens during this decade contributed to many organizations. They ushered the annual NAACP scholarship dinners and collected winter clothing for the Marcy-Newberry Association in Chicago. They also were hosts and hostesses for the DuPage County Area NAACP Dinner and provided assistance with the young children attending the affair. Our chapter was the proud host of the 1989 Annual Mid-Western Regional Teen Conference in June of 1989. The theme was “Black to the Future... Excellence Without Excuses.” The conference was held at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. Attendance exceeded seven hundred teens and mothers from various Jack and Jill chapters nationally. The challenge of hosting a National Teen Conference was met by our chapter.
In the 1990s, the chapter experienced increased membership and more fun-filled activities. Our chapter thrived under the leadership of the following Presidents: Sylvia Norfliss, Thomasina Johnson, Melody Coleman and Sylvia Evans. In 1991, the theme for Jack and Jill was "The Men in Our Lives" and West Suburban Chicago recognized that the needs of our children include the active participation of their fathers. Our group of fathers called "The Father's Connection" first met in January 1991 and is still going strong! Service projects continued to thrive in our chapter. Our Teens continued to be hosts and hostesses for the NAACP Freedom Banquet. Our chapter organized a Senior Citizen Dinner, a "Gang Awareness" community program and a "Baby Shower" for mothers and infants who were impoverished. The chapter also participated in the "Toys for Tots" program and our Teens adopted two community-based sites for service: The Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center and a homeless shelter, the Hesed House. During the 1997 Mid-Western Teen Conference, our Teens won third place in the MLK Service Award Competition! They also established the Chapter's first Teen Newsletter.
We are not a chapter of all work and no play. There were plenty of fun activities going on as well. A social afternoon of skating, a trip to the circus, a video game party, hayrides, trips to amusement parks, bumper bowling, a Mother's Brunch/Workshop, a Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration, trips to the Wave Pool and play outings were activities our chapter conducted. The Chapter had success with the Father's Auxiliary get-acquainted "Progressive Dinner - A Caribbean Feast.” The theme required island attire, complete with decorations. The fathers planned, cooked and served the meal. This gave the mothers a rest and was great fun.
Our chapter celebrated its l0th Anniversary in 1993 during the Black History celebration. Highlights of each year were part of the program including a history of the interest group. The Nichols Library in Naperville, Illinois, approached the Jack and Jill Teen Group and asked if they would co-sponsor the library's February Black History program. The community responded favorably, as demonstrated by the well-attended program.
The New Millennium for West Suburban Chicago started with a Mother's Retreat at the Radisson Hotel in Lisle, Illinois. The Mothers left renewed with purpose and goals for a successful new millennial year! The Mothers who have provided leadership to our chapter as Presidents this decade were: Sylvia Evans, Janet Evans, Sharon Gardner and Nina Thornton, Elizabeth Williams, Kim Leslie Bright, Gina Eanes, and Terri Ransom. On October 13-15, 2000, the chapter hosted the Mid-Western Regional Mother's Cluster. It was held on the beautiful grounds of McDonald's Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois. The event was very successful. On March 17, 2001, our chapter hosted the Mid-Western Region Children's Cluster. Nikki Stinnette, a WSCC Mom, served on the Illinois Area Cluster Committee and chaired the chapter's committee. The Cluster provided games, self-esteem building, creative expressions and rites of passage for the children. Our children also donated books to the school's library.
In 2000, our chapter received the Jacqueline Robinson Regional Competition Award from the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, Incorporated. The funds were presented to the Sankofa Center for History, Culture and Creativity. We have continued ourservice tradition to the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center and donations to Hesed House through their food pantry in Aurora.
Our grade groups include as part of their monthly activities clothing drives and donations to these organizations. Our chapter partnered with the Naperville Police Department and Babies R Us in an effort to support the Seat Belt Safety Program. Our chapter provided the community with an avenue for fun while making a sizeable donation to Jack and Jill of America Foundation when we sponsored "Jumoke Jamboree - A Black History Carnival.” The event was held on the campus of BP Amoco in Warrenville, Illinois in February 2003. There were games for the children, a silent auction, crafts, vendors and food. The event was a total success!
Our chapter celebrated twenty years in 2003 with a combination Founders Day, Initiation Ceremony and Induction Program at the Hilton Hotel in Lisle. We also memorialized members of WSCC who have passed away: David Carney Jr., Christine Ponquinette and Kristin Ponquinette. The luncheon was well-attended and our Associate Mothers and “seasoned” members shared fond memories of their Jack and Jill experiences.
Our chapter has had three mothers receive Distinguished Mother Awards: Tomi Johnson, Sylvia Evans and Nina Thornton. Former President, Melody Coleman has received a Distinguished Associate Mother Award. Bill Williams, husband of WSCC mom Elizabeth Williams, received a Distinguished Father Award.
In 2004, our chapter has held a Mother's Retreat at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Chicago where former Midwest Regional Director Diane Hines spoke on the benefits of Jack and Jill for our children. We held a Pre-Kwanzaa Bazaar in conjunction with a local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois where famous speaker and author Mawi Asgedom addressed the audience. The children presented the seven principles of Kwanzaa. There was a storyteller and sign language performance along with various vendors at the event which was well-attended.
2005 was a year that would become known for several major catastrophes in our Nation. Our National theme: “Celebrating our Children, Serving our Communities, Honoring our Culture” became even more poignant than ever before as our nation and our chapter came together to help those most in need. The West Suburban Chicago Chapter of Jack and Jill began our 23rd program year serving those devastated by Hurricane Katrina. At our annual September picnic, our families collected nearly 500 personal hygiene items that were delivered to a local New Orleans Shelter. Locally, our spring fundraiser themed “A Secret Garden” raised over $7,000 for the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center. The Center provides day care services and a comprehensive developmental program for the social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth of low-income and other eligible children of single parent households in Aurora, Illinois. The proceeds will cover costs associated with building a Technology Center and other financial and material needs of the center.
We continue to build upon the foundation started by our founding members. Our Mother’s Retreats and meetings focus on developing and implementing new strategies to improve the effectiveness of our chapter. Our grade group activities include many activities in the city and suburbs including attending the performances of UniverSoul Circus, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and the Harlem Globetrotters.
Community service projects of note were providing gifts for the Children’s Birthday Project, multiple service activities at the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center, serving Thanksgiving Dinner at a Homeless Shelter in Chicago and the Teen Group providing support to the Martin Luther King Resource Center in Naperville, IL.
The West Suburban Chicago Chapter kicked off 2006 on a high note with a successful fundraiser enabling us to donate over $12,000 to the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center. We also received a grant from the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, Incorporated which funded a Technology Skills Initiative at the Center that provided computer equipment and hardware and software training to the families and employees.
Our Foundation project this program year is the DuPage County NAACP ACT-SO program. ACT-SO is an enrichment program and competition for students in grades 9-12. We provided monetary support to local participants traveling to the national competition, and served as room monitors, facilitators and greeters at a local competition. Other projects of note include participating in the 100 Black Men of Chicago local College Fair and shelving books in preparation for the grand opening of the Bronzeville Children’s Museum, which is the only African-American children’s museum in the country.
In an effort to promote and strengthen our sisterly bond, President Kim Leslie Bright added the “Mothers’ Connection” as an agenda item in our meetings to provide presentations focused on inspirational, educational and informational topics. These wonderful presentations brought fantastic guests to our meetings and programs, including our very own Mid-Western Regional Director Linda Murrain. She reminded us that Jack and Jill should be celebrated as a “voice for raising Black children.” Health Programming was a thrust many of our mothers were well qualified to address. Breast Cancer and Domestic Violence awareness, conducting an Asthma drive, AIDS testing, “Red Dress Day,” and a partnership with a Smoke-Free Naperville Organization were all a part of our Programming and Advocacy.
In September 2006 the chapter celebrated Jack and Jill Day with an “Olympic” themed family picnic. Fun and fellowship were the goals of the misty fall day, while feasting on a smorgasbord of southern cuisine. In December, the Program Committee continued our tradition of celebrating Kwanzaa by presenting a “Soulful Celebration.” Our Black History Month event joined forces with the Chicago Chapter’s “Wealth Warriors.” Their presentation gave us the foundation to build wealth in our community.
The West Suburban Chicago Chapter observed its Founder’s Day Celebration in February 2007, which marked the beginning of our 25th year as a chapter. Our National President, Jacqueline Moore Bowles, was in attendance as well as WSCC Charter Member Helen Smith. President Bowles challenged us to accept our assignment to be First Class leaders in a Coach Class World and encouraged us to work together to “grow” the Chapter.
Our activities continue to capture the spirit of service, community awareness and teamwork. Our recap begins in September with the Tiny Tots talking about how they can produce healthy fruits and veggies in their back yard. The Explorers and Pathfinders put teamwork to the test by preparing a gourmet meal during their cooking class. October highlights included the Explorers experiencing the sights and sounds of a Revolutionary War Re-enactment, while the Pathfinders visited the Bronzeville Children’s Museum in the Chicago. In November, the Explorers and Navigators donated care packages and made holiday greeting cards for our service men and women.
The Pathfinders got into the holiday spirit by making holiday baskets at the People’s Resource Center. At the DuSable Museum, the sound of music captured our Explorers and Pathfinders during a performance of "Simplemente Muntu." The Navigators found their own rhythm at an “African Dance = Hip Hop Dance” presentation, and the Trailblazers paid homage to black theater by attending two African American plays. March finds our entire Chapter gearing up for local elections. One of our own is providing a behind-the-scenes campaign experience that all of our children are learning from.
The West Suburban Chicago Chapter Teens (Trailblazers) started out the year by winning 1st place in the scrapbook contest at Teen Conference. The Teens focused upon completing the Teen Leadership Modules at their teen meetings. Teen activities included community service, attending a financial aid workshop for college, attending performances of the Black Nativity (performed by the Congo Square Theater), and the late playwright August Wilson’s “Radio Golf.” This spring the Trailblazers are working on a garage sale fundraiser and gearing up for the 2007 Teen Conference which is themed “Securing the Future by Building Great Leaders.”
The West Suburban Chicago Chapter celebrated a highly successful 2007-2008 program year. Chapter members began the year preparing for the Mid-Western Children’s Cluster, Presidents’ Summit, and our 25th anniversary celebration and fundraiser “Going Platinum.” We also continued to support the Technology Initiative with the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center and the DuPage County ACT-SO mentoring and enrichment program.
In September 2007 the chapter celebrated Jack and Jill Day with a fun-filled family picnic. Accepting the challenge of President Bowles to “Grow” the chapter, we invited prospective mothers and families to the picnic to fellowship with current Jack and Jill families. The Program Committee continued our tradition of celebrating Kwanzaa by partnering with Indian Prairie School District 204 and participating in the Multi-cultural Fair. Our chapter provided information about Kwanzaa, assisted participants in making African American Crafts, and enjoyed food from around the world. Our Black History Month event included enjoying an evening of fellowship and family fun that included a lavish dinner and the viewing of the Movie “PRIDE.” In celebration of the 25th Anniversary, the West Suburban Chicago Chapter observed its Founder’s Day Celebration in February 2008. Associate members Tomi Johnson, Elizabeth Williams, and Melody Coleman were recognized for their contributions and continued support of the West Suburban Chicago Chapter of Jack and Jill. The accomplishments of our seven graduating seniors were celebrated during Black Family Day in May, a chapter-wide event celebrating African American culture.
The West Suburban Chicago Chapter hosted a highly successful 2008 Chicago Area Children’s Cluster, which brought together over 250 participants from the Mid-Western Region for a day-long program focused upon developing youth leadership skills. Highlights included the personal branding workshop, a presidential debate, exercise time with Mr. Miguel (a personal trainer), hula dancers, and a visit from local teen celebrity Mia Akers who stars in the American Girl Theater in Chicago as Addy. We also hosted the 2008 Mid-Western Region President’s Summit with President Jacqueline Moore Bowles, the Regional leadership team, and the Chapter Presidents in the Mid-Western Region.
Our grade group activities centered on the Jack and Jill Program thrusts (social, educational, service, cultural, recreational, financial literacy, leadership development, legislative and health) and continued to stimulate our children’s growth and development. The chapter Teens (Trailblazers) focused upon several activities including: community service, legislative, financial, and leadership development while working diligently to prepare for the Teen Conference, which was themed “Courage, Character, & Perseverance on the Journey to Excellence.”
In Celebration of the chapter’s 25th anniversary the West Suburban Chicago Chapter hosted a successful fundraiser, “Going Platinum.” The fundraiser grossed over $34,000 for our designated charities, the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center, DuPage County ACT-SO Program, and the Jack and Jill of America Foundation, Incorporated.
The Foundation Committee prepared two grants and we received approval for a $5,000 grant for our Leadership Development Initiative with DuPage County ACT-SO and a $3,000 grant for our Technology Initiative with the Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center.
The West Suburban Chicago Chapter was recognized at the Regional and National levels. Peggy Johnson, Chapter Treasurer, was recognized as the Outstanding Treasurer for the Mid-Western Region for 2008. The following National awards were received at the National Convention, which was held in Miami, Florida: Chapter Programming Recognition Award, Excellence in Program Chapter Handbook, Outstanding Chapter Programming, Leadership Development, and Legislative.
We had quite a few families travel to Washington, D.C. in January 2009 to celebrate the historic inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama. Several of our fathers shared their thoughts on the election of our nation’s first African American President in our chapter newsletter. To celebrate Black History Month, we partnered with a local Girl Scout troop and viewed a movie about an African girl, which was produced by a local author.
The Initiation and Installation Ceremonies were held at the luxurious and brand new Hotel Arista in Naperville. Our new Chapter President, Terri L. Ransom, was installed as several members and Past Presidents Thomasina Johnson and Kim Leslie Bright were in attendance. Our Black Family Day Celebration was held later that same day as we enjoyed a sumptuous soul food brunch, and our children were entertained by a storyteller. We honored our four graduating seniors and recognized the contributions of longtime member Sharon James, who graduated out of the chapter. The featured speaker was Theodia Gillespie, President and CEO of the Quad County Urban League.
In May 2009 our families participated in an all-chapter service project at Mutual Ground, which is a shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. We manicured the grounds, donated brand-new computers, and provided clothing, books and toys. Our children, both the teens and the little ones, made us especially proud by working so diligently and giving so generously of their time.
In September 2009 our Jack and Jill Day was a wonderful family picnic coordinated by Program Director Charmayne Sears and her committee. Our theme for the day was “A Boogie Down Beach Blast,” and it was truly a fabulous event. The weather was beautiful, the food was awesome, and the fellowship was wonderful. The teen officers led us in a poignant tribute to the late Carole Robertson during this event. The mothers enjoyed a fabulous Women’s Retreat at Arrowhead Golf Club in Wheaton, which included a lunch, a team-building exercise facilitated by father Devin Cobb, a fashion show, and an African American marketplace.
Our successful Kwanzaa celebration was a replica of an African Village. The program opened with the fathers coming in beating drums and calling the “Village” together for Umoja, which is the Swahili word for unity. After a brief welcome and introduction, the younger children were each given passports which were used as they traveled to the various booths, which each represented a principle of Kwanzaa. While at each booth the children received a stamp in their passport to show where they had been. The Village tour ended with each family having the opportunity to paint and take home their very own Kinara. The fathers also had a strong presence when they met at the Kinara table and lit the candles. This celebration was well-received and well-attended. We were especially proud of our teens and pre-teens because they helped run the “Village.”
The Membership Committee coordinated a wonderful Founders’ Day Celebration in January 2010. National Parliamentarian and Life Member Tomi Johnson was our esteemed speaker. A delicious meal was prepared by Membership Committee Member and Foundation Chair Gloria Brooks. We honored our Associates in attendance at the event: Kim Leslie Bright, Charsetta Henderson, Sharon James, and Tomi Johnson. Our 2009 Distinguished Mother Recipient, Sharon James, was presented with her award.
Black History 2010 was celebrated at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. We collaborated with the other Chicagoland area chapters to network and engage the children in their African American history by touring the Black Creativity Exhibit. We also enjoyed a scavenger hunt and a wonderful lunch together.
Grade group activities in February and March focused on financial literacy and legislative issues. Our Tiny Tots and Adventurers participated in an interactive session entitled “How to Save Your Money,” which culminated with the children selecting and painting their own piggybank at The Painted Penguin. Our Explorers became young tycoons as they played the board game “Show Me the Money.” The children thoroughly enjoyed the game, which promoted their knowledge of financial terms. Our Explorers were young legislators as they learned how to make their voices heard by the government at their legislative activity. They researched how to write an ordinance. As citizens of our nation prepared to complete their 2010 census forms, the Pathfinders learned the importance of this effort and how it affects their lives. They learned how results from the census are used to determine where new schools will be built, and how it impacts the number of representatives a state has in Congress.
In April, New Member Orientation was held at the lovely home of Carmin Awadzi, which provided our five prospective mothers and three legacy mothers the opportunity to ask questions and become more knowledgeable about our organization prior to making a commitment. On May 1, 2010, we welcomed eight wonderful mothers into our chapter during a beautiful Initiation Ceremony at the CityGate Grille in Naperville. We were pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Rose Carter, a former member of WSCC, who flew in from Denver for this special occasion. Our Black Family Day event was held later that same day, and we celebrated the many accomplishments of our four graduating seniors. This month also marked our successful “Party with a Purpose” dinner dance fundraiser at White Eagle Golf Club. Despite the challenges of our current economy, we were so very pleased to raise thousands of dollars for the Mutual Ground, The Jack and Jill of America Foundation, Incorporated, and Rebuild America. This elegant event was chaired by Sharon Wallace and Frances Woodard. President Terri Ransom and Foundation Chair Gloria Brooks also served on the Fundraiser Steering Committee. Our own Tom Finch, 2009 Distinguished Father Award recipient, acted as the Master of Ceremonies. We also appreciated the invaluable contributions of new chapter father LeVern Danley, III, who captured some incredible images of our fundraiser attendees.
The 2010 Mid-Western Teen Leadership Conference was hosted by the Indianapolis Chapter, and it marked the year of the largest WSCC delegation in chapter history. We sent nineteen teens and four chaperones to the conference, and we were so proud of our teens for placing 2nd in the exhibit competition. At the magnificent Teen Banquet, we bid farewell to our graduating seniors: Austin Miller, Perry Mitchell and Brian Wilks. We also walked away with a Teen Lead Advisor award for Peggy Johnson and the Distinguished Father award for LeVern Danley, III.
The summer of 2010 marked an extremely exciting and busy season for our chapter. We were thrilled to be involved in the planning and execution of the 39th Biennial National Convention, which was about to be hosted in Chicago from July 27th to August 1st at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. Our chapter was charged with chairing two key committees: The Youth Summit and Gift Bags. Our mothers, fathers, and children worked tirelessly as we solicited gift bag items, stored the items and finally assembled the items in the nearly 1,000 gift bags for our Convention attendees. Working with National Program Director Tara Joseph-Labrie on The Youth Summit was truly a pleasure, and the event was a labor of love. Our chapter was overwhelmed by all of the accolades and kudos regarding both the Youth Summit and the gift bags.
Our families reconnected at our Jack and Jill Day Picnic and Carole Robertson Memorial Tribute on Sunday, September 19, 2010. After days of heavy rains, the sun appeared just in time to dry the grounds at the Riverwalk Park in downtown Naperville. Program Director Charmayne Sears and Assistant Program Director Tarah Townsend worked closely with Picnic Committee Chair Donna Coaxum to plan and execute an event that no one wanted to miss. Our event, dubbed “A Picnic with a Purpose” included lots of fun games and an abundance of food. However, we also focused on First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign as we stressed the benefits of healthy eating and exercise to our children and their parents. To that end, we featured a deliciously healthy spread of food and engaged our families in many physical games, such as tug-of-war, potato sack races, volleyball, and jumping rope. The Committee also coordinated an art/essay contest in which our children competed for trophies and cash prizes ranging from $50 for the 1st place winners to $25 for the 2nd and 3rd place winners. The winning essays and art designs will be sent to the First Lady, the winner’s school principal, and the National President of Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated, Mrs. Tara Joseph-Labrie.
As is our tradition, the mothers continue to execute creative activities such as a corporate retreat for the younger children where they focused on financial literacy and public speaking, and we attended a performance of an internationally-acclaimed children’s choir from Africa.
We continue to build on the foundation laid by our chapter founders. "Let's work, let's play, let's live together." This is the goal of our chapter for today and years to come.