Mothers 'graduate' with teens

May 24, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

When LaNell Coffey graduates from Mount Hebron High School in two weeks, her mother will also have a commencement of sorts.

The Ellicott City mother belongs to Jack and Jill of America Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to helping black mothers raise their children in an atmosphere rich with cultural and educational activities. Mothers "graduate" from the club when their youngest finishes high school.

For Grace Coffey, LaNell's mother, it will be a bittersweet time.

"Just sad," Mrs. Coffey said. "I will miss the activities. But I will still see many of the people. I certainly will miss being an active participant."

The Columbia chapter of Jack and Jill sponsored a going-away luncheon for 10 graduating mothers and their children Sunday at the Columbia Inn. Each mother received a plaque for their accomplishments, and each high school senior got $100 scholarships for college.

For 18-year-old LaNell, an only child, being in Jack and Jill gave her the chance to meet other black students in the county.

"It's been a positive experience," she says. "It is a great youth group where young African-American students can get together."

Students have participated in a number of service projects, including a Saturday tutoring program they help run at the Roger Carter Neighborhood Center in Ellicott City for the Mount Ida community. They also planned a cook-out for homeless families at Grassroots in Columbia.

"I got so much gratification and fulfillment knowing that I helped other families in need," LaNell says.

Those who belong to Jack and Jill speak of nurtured relationships that last long after they leave the organization.

"You establish friendships that last a lifetime with other people," says Jo Emily Knox, a Columbia resident whose 18-year-old daughter, Emily Jo, will graduate from Centennial High School this year.

"The whole idea about Jack and Jill is very good," Mrs. Knox said. "It provides you with the opportunity to expose your children to a lot of wholesome activities that one person can't do by themselves."

Emily Jo, who's headed to Smith College in Massachusetts next year, says being in Jack and Jill has been a satisfying experience. She remembers particularly a life skills workshop that taught students etiquette.

Jack and Jill of America Inc. has been in existence for 56 years and has 199 chapters in 35 states and Washington, D.C. The Columbia chapter was organized in 1970 by Celonia Walden, Roberta Briscoe and Grace Dixon, three ex-Baltimoreans who moved to the new town and saw the need for an organization that would help black mothers raise their children. The chapter met initially as the Columbia Mothers' Club for two years until it became part of Jack and Jill.

Many of the mothers who join Jack and Jill are professional women who hold demanding jobs but who find time to plan activities for their children. Mrs. Coffey is a Morgan State University professor, while Mrs. Knox works as a media specialist for the Prince George's County public school system.

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