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At holiday time, Delta Sigma Theta outreach takes on festive theme

This time of year, Homewood resident Paulette Graham says the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s service work is especially festive. And she could not be more excited.

Naomia Gilbert, left, and   Patricia Johnson are annual

“Breakfast with Santa, of all of the events we do, is my absolute favorite. It is the best time of year,” said Graham, chair of the annual event. “Children have so much to deal with. I have a daughter at Homewood-Flossmoor High School and there has just been so much going on. Just for one day a year, they don’t have to talk about active shooter drills, or bullying or suicide.

“They can just be kids. It brings out the kid in all of us. We can take our minds off all of the adult things.”

On Dec. 1, for the 34th straight year, its the Delta Sigma Theta Joliet Area/South Suburban Alumnae Chapter (JASSAC) annual Breakfast with Santa Toy and Bike drive.

Students will find the school gym at Prairie Hills Junior High School in Markham transformed into a winter wonderland. The chapter anticipates a turnout of 500 children.

DeltaSigma_P 2 HG- Rogers_web
Carole Rogers of   Flossmoor works the sign-in table.

The sorority’s chapter annually selects one community and school in its service area, alternating each year.

Breakfast with Santa is open to children from infancy to age 12. Children are selected for the event after JASSAC gives out flyers to principals at elementary schools in the area. It takes between 100 and 150 members to facilitate the Breakfast with Santa.

The chapter starts putting everything in place in September.

On the night before the event, members complete the transformation of the school gym. Amid the Christmas decorations and inflatable reindeer, the JASSAC provides children with a hot breakfast, a hat and glove set, a toy and a chance to win a bike.

Naturally, the children also take a picture with Santa Claus. They may also pick out a donated coat.

Graham said the support of the Homewood-Flossmoor community plays a role in the success of the event each year.

“Immediately, when we say we have a need, so many families on our block have donated toys, and they don’t ask questions,” she noted. “I say ‘I’m doing Breakfast with Santa this year’ and the doorbell rings: ‘Hey, could the kids use this?’ I remind my neighbors that we are taking donations for the event and to keep us in mind as they flip their closets to get ready for winter, and they have.

“Although this won’t help residents in Homewood, H-F residents have stepped up to help neighboring communities. And that’s what it’s all about. We’re all a community.”

Graham, who has been a Homewood resident since 2003, says it is the loyalty and friendship she feels in the H-F community that makes this home.

“I think I live on the best block in Homewood. Others may disagree,” she laughs. “We are very close-knit. We all know each other, our children all know each other; we even do a block potluck. When people looking at homes leave questions or comments on Facebook, we will post about how great it is to live in our (Southgate) neighborhood. We are literally on the realtor’s page helping her sell houses.”

With a service area stretching from the Chicago limit to Joliet, and traveling west from the state line to Kankakee, JASSAC outreach covers a lot of ground. Still, chapter president Kimberly Rowe-Barney says the chapter’s outreach is touched by the H-F community each year.

“The H-F community is special, as many of our members reside and work in the district,” Rowe-Barney said. “Many of the youth that we service are students of the H-F district. Whether they are involved in one of our educational development programs, or as a recipient of one of the $22,000 in scholarships we award high school seniors yearly, we have a strong connection to H-F.”

Rowe-Barney said the local chapter of Delta Sigma Theta has 419 members and about 10 percent are residents of Homewood or Flossmoor.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. (DST) has been committed to community service since it was founded in 1913 at Howard University, an historically black college. The JASSAC was founded in 1974.

As members prepare to mark the chapter’s 45th anniversary on Jan. 12, Rowe-Barney said JASSAC is re-committing to the organization’s 5-point programmatic thrust: economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health and political awareness and involvement.

Rowe-Barney, who grew up in Glenwood and now lives in Crete, has been in her role nearly four years, and a sorority member for more than 16 years. She said her leadership role is a natural fit with her interests in volunteering and community service.

The sorority, with a membership of more than 300,000 women, is an international organization with members in Germany, Japan and a newly charted chapter in Toronto, Canada.

While the chapter takes pride in the ever-expanding sorority, Rowe-Barney emphasizes the importance of local outreach. JASSAC has continued to increase its presence in the South Suburbs.

“We are familiar with our people, our issues and our history,” she said. “Our programming efforts are built upon the relationships we build with community leaders, local residents and the long history of the South Suburbs. We are interested in making an impact in our community, whether it be support of the local Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) sites at St. Irenaeus in Park Forest, or New Faith Baptist Church in Matteson. We look to connect.”

JASSAC has demonstrated a belief that community development starts with the youth. The chapter spearheads a number of mentoring and youth empowerment programs, along with financial, social and political awareness programs.

JASSAC programs also reflect a value for culture, with their Kiddy Kids Chess and cursive writing programs. To contribute to any of the chapter’s upcoming events, contact Rowe-Barney at [email protected], or 773-416-0570.

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