NEW HAVEN >> For three New Haven women, mentoring young women in their hometown is just one way they give back to the community that helped raise them.
Alpha Kappa Alpha was founded on Jan. 15, 1908, on the campus of Howard University.
“It’s really based on the principles of sisterhood and service,” chapter President Nicole Murphy said.
Theta Epsilon Omega has been serving the community for nearly 50 years. Members started their work out of the Dixwell Community Q House and moved to Wexler Grant School after the Q House closed.
Their work is based on a vision set forth by the sorority’s international president every four years. Their most recent efforts are based off the 2010-14 Global Leadership through Timeless Service initiative set forth by President Carolyn House Stewart.
The chapters localize the international initiative to reflect the unique needs of their communities. This July, a new set of initiatives will be unveiled at the annual convention.
“Whatever the thrust has been internationally, we’ve been able to do it locally, and I would say, do it well,” Sondi Jackson said.
Jackson is a New Haven native and has worked in New Haven Public Schools for more than 20 years. She is currently a speech pathologist at Wexler Grant School.
Some of the chapter’s most notable work over the last four years has included the continuation of two scholarships, the Emerging Young Leaders program and a focus on health issues that disproportionately impact communities of color.
The chapter has worked with the National Kidney Association, American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association and pushed for civic engagement in New Haven.
“The majority of our membership is really from New Haven and really has a strong desire and will to be able to give back to students and families in New Haven,” Murphy said.
Murphy, a James Hillhouse High School graduate, works in Hartford but decided to join the New Haven chapter specifically to interact with New Haven residents.
“I work in Hartford and have had opportunities to do community service in that area but it just didn’t feel as right to me,” she said. “I didn’t connect as much as I connect with the community service opportunities that are here. I want to be able to interact with students at Hillhouse High School.”
The two scholarships continued this year include a nursing scholarship, the Susan Moore Lincoln Scholarship, at Gateway Community College, and the Theta Epsilon Omega AKA Scholarship, a four-year, renewable scholarship for high school seniors, valued at $4,000.
Theta Epsilon Omega holds about four fundraisers a year to support the scholarships and other activities. Murphy said the relationship with New Haven Public Schools has been “invaluable” because it allows the women to borrow resources and utilize venues.
“We’re very much focused on developing and preserving communities of color, so any issues or any needs that are affecting communities of colors ... Be it in the realm of health, be it in the realm of economic security, be it in the realm of social justice …” Murphy said.
One program the group is particularly proud of is the international Emerging Young Leaders program.
The Emerging Young Leaders program is replicated across the United States in about 981 chapters of AKA. To date, about 15,000 girls have enrolled in the program across the U.S. In New Haven, about 20 girls have come through the program since 2010.
Taryn Anderson, co-chairwoman of New Haven’s EYL, said EYL targets girls in sixth through eighth grade because it’s a “pivotal time in young women’s development.”
To qualify for the program, the young women must have decent grades and an interest in community service and leadership.
“That is our focus with them, encouraging their leadership skills and also helping them to develop a larger sense of community and community service,” Anderson said.
The program featured “academies” on civic engagement, time management skills, public speaking, leadership and other areas.
Tanaiza Glass, 12, heard about the program from a family mother and figured it would be a good experience.
“I did take away how to be a polite and respectful young lady, how to carry myself, how to have etiquette, mostly just how to be a young lady,” Glass said.
Recognizing changing times, Anderson said the program covers some of the newer challenges youth face, such as cyber bullying and developing an appropriate online identity. Students are taught to be aware of what they post on social media and are taught about “safety and safe space” so they know where they can go and who they can talk to if they feel unsafe.
Students also worked on community service projects, collecting and packaging toiletries to send to U.S. military members deployed to Afghanistan. The young women later participated in community service alongside AKA members, such as a walk for sickle cell anemia.
“I think that speaks to the importance of showing, not only just telling them, these are the things you should be doing,” she said.
Having benefited from mentoring programs themselves, the women agreed on the importance of mentors and youth programming. Murphy said mentoring can be a “make or break” factor in many people’s lives. For Murphy, mentoring and similar programs exposed her to culture, public speaking and appropriate social interactions.
“It’s about commitment and consistency,” Murphy said. “As long as we show up, and they show up, then I think the return on that investment is going to be invaluable.”
“When you talk about mentoring in general, you have to be committed,” she said. “Your mentees count on you and they look to you to provide that feedback, to provide that input, to provide that impact on their lives overall.”
Jackson echoed Murphy’s sentiments and said it’s particularly important that the women are “role models” and teach “the importance of giving back to your community.”
“It’s especially important for our young people to know who we are and that there are people who are interested in giving back,” Jackson said.
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