New Haven sorority takes giving to heart, providing help to many
Sorority meets needs of families, children, the hungry
By Shahid Abdul-Karim, New Haven Register
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
NEW HAVEN >> Talia Morton has a lot to be thankful for.
She was surprised when the Theta Epsilon Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. decided to provide the Thanksgiving Day meal for her entire family last year.
“They brought us so much food that (it) lasted the following month,” said Morton, 38, a Newhallville resident who is married with nine children.
It was a critical time for the Mortons. Her husband had been laid off from work and he is still seeking employment.
“I asked, (and) they were there for my family in time of our need,” she said.
This type of philanthropy is part of the sorority chapter’s Adopt-a-Family program and is one among several that aim to engage in a variety of activities to uplift families throughout the year, but especially during the holiday season.
Adopt-a-Family serves as an arm of the Family Strengthening initiative.
For the Mortons, the program has been directly beneficial as the chapter goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to giving, Morton said.
“They’ve helped me twice,” said Morton. “They have come through for us like they have done for so many other families in the community.”
And for some city residents, obtaining basic necessities is not easy.
According to U.S. Census figures, 26.3 percent of city residents live below the poverty level and the city’s unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, which is higher than the national average.
In 2014, 13 percent of the Greater New Haven population lived in poverty, meaning they were in households with annual incomes below the federal poverty line, according to a report by United Way of Greater New Haven.
The report noted that the federal poverty line is equivalent to $15,730 per year for a family of two and $23,850 for a family of four.
While many area families continue to struggle, sorority chapter President Cathy R. Patton said the goal is to support the less fortunate.
“This program has been a part of who we are and what we really do for some time now,” said Patton, who’s been with the sorority for 34 years.
“We think it’s important that we support the family structure in the home, by providing what others may take for granted,” she said. “A lot of families just don’t have the basic necessities.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha Soroity Inc. was established in 1908 on the campus of Howard University, as the first Greek-lettered organization for black college women.
Its mission is to cultivate and encourage high scholastic and ethical standards, promote unity and friendship among college women, to study and help alleviate problems concerning girls and women in order to improve their social stature, to maintain a progressive interest in college life and to be of service to all mankind.
The New Haven chapter was chartered in 1965 as a graduate chapter with 15 charter members.
Patton believes the city is resource-rich, yet, “in terms of collaboration of organizations, we’re poor.”
“I think we can be stronger if we did more things together to impact more families,” she said.
As a part of a community collaboration, next month the chapter will partner with the WYBC radio station and the New Haven Firebirds for a community-wide coat drive.
In January, the chapter will hold its annual community-wide Martin Luther King Jr. Conference at Wexler-Grant School, which Patton says has the strongest impact in the community.
“It’s our favorite,” said Patton. “We get to take all of our programs that we do throughout the year and conduct workshops all in that day.”
Some of the other initiatives include the A.S.C.E.N.D. Youth Enrichment Program, which is the sorority’s signature youth program; education; health; economic empowerment; and the AKA Connection.
The chapter also provides monetary support to the Connecticut Food Bank, American Cancer Society, Emergency Shelter Management Services and Children in Placement, among other organizations.
In addition to those initiatives, the chapter also adopted Ella B. Scantlebury Playground at Wexler Grant Park in an effort to help provide a better environment for children.
“It’s part of our community impact day(s). We want children to feel safe and play in a clean environment,” said Patton. “We have to monitor it all year and make sure it stays clean.”
While the chapter doesn’t have a physical office, it holds its meetings at Wexler-Grant School.
School Principal Sabrina Breland said the sorority is invaluable to the school community.
“They do so much for us here in terms of activities for the students,” said Breland. “They supply clothing for our students; hats, gloves and coats,” she said.
Breland said the chapter has a strong presence at the school and is highly active during school events throughout the year.
Chapter member Sondi Jackson knows exactly how the programs directly affect students and their needs. She serves as the school’s speech pathologist.
“The children have been exposed to the AKA’s (members) for a number of years. Students have seen us at all different levels within the community,” said Jackson.
For example, in previous years, the chapter adopted the kindergarten classrooms at the school and held activities for pupils.
One other project, according to Jackson, which she said worked well, was giving bicycles to students who came to school early in preparation for the Connecticut Mastery Test.
“In the areas where it relates to education and basic needs, we’ve been to the table serving the community,” said Jackson, who has been part of the sorority since 1981.
Among other issues in the city for families is food insecurity.
In New Haven County in 2014, 13.9 percent, or 119,880 residents, were food-insecure, and it would take more than $64 million to meet the needs of New Haven County’s food-insecure population, or $17.62 per week for each food-insecure person, according to a study done by the Connecticut Food Bank.
The figures remain the highest among Connecticut’s eight counties. Although 2013 data showed a higher 14.1 percent food-insecurity rate than the 13.9 percent rate reported for 2014, there is a $1.4 million increase in the food budget shortfall, from the figure of $62.64 million reported in 2013. The average New Haven County food budget shortfall increased by 60 cents per week, or 3.5 percent, for each food-insecure person, the report said.
Chapter member and Greater New Haven NAACP Branch President Dori Dumas said families are challenged with putting food on their tables.
“We do these programs because there is a need and we understand our community,” said Dumas, who has been a member of the sorority for more than 20 years.
“We know families that don’t have food; not just during the holidays, but year-round,” she said.
When the chapter adopts a family, Dumas said, no one is left out.
“We provide food, clothing and toys; everyone gets something,” said Dumas. “We shop like we’re shopping for members of our family.” .
For the holidays two years ago, the chapter saw the need to make the Mortons’ Christmas one they’d remember.
“They bought my kids lots of stuff; when they do things for you, they don’t play games,” said Morton.
“They’re also very good people to talk to,” she said. “They’re understanding and don’t judge you based on your circumstances; they look at you as a human being.”
Reach Community Engagement Editor Shahid Abdul-Karim at 203-680-9343.