Since 1994, the Pontchartrain (LA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated has been making a difference in the New Orleans community. With over 25 years of friendship and service, its members and the community have much to celebrate.
An interest group was formed in 1989 at the invitation of the Crescent City (LA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated to explore the feasibility of establishing a third chapter of The Links, Incorporated in the New Orleans metropolitan area. This diverse group of women shared common interests and a desire to perpetuate and support civic, charitable, philanthropic, educational, and cultural endeavors. The group named itself the Metropolitan Area Guild and thrived under the mentorship of Lydia Sindos Adams.
The members of the Metropolitan Area Guild became the charter members of the Pontchartrain Chapter of The Links, Incorporated during a weekend of events held May 27 through 29, 1994, at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside Hotel. The late Jacqueline N. Raphael was the charter president. National President Marion Schultz Sutherland, National Vice President Patricia Russell-McCloud, Southern Area Vice Director Joyce Martin Dixon and others were in attendance. The Links of the Pontchartrain Chapter wasted no time engaging the community. As music programs in the public schools were being eliminated, Chapter members responded by initiating “Links Keep the Music Playing” a three-part program comprised of vocal and instrumental training, applied performance skills, and
educational sessions to strengthen music appreciation. The Pontchartrain Links Boys Choir, the vision of Chapter President Jacqueline N. Raphael, became a conduit for showcasing the musical talents of area public elementary and middle school boys. Chapter members and Connecting Links (members’ spouses) assisted with workshops, career days, and group discussions that promoted the importance of academic achievement, the richness of our culture, and the value of having a range of social skills.
May 28, 1994: Linda Jules Adams, Janet Duncan Barnes, Lynn Bernal-Green, Catherine S. Boveland, Angela Dixon Braud, Penelope R. Brazile, Gwendolyn Muse Charles, Anita Turner Dabon, Bari Jefferson Davis, Irma Bowman Davis, Eneid A. Francis, Jacqueline Kirby Helm, Ruth Campbell Jean, Rose Ledet, Carolyn E. Lewis, Valera Francis Mason, Sharon Merrick, Jacqueline N. Raphael, Durinda L. Robinson, Dawna M. Rogers, Esperanza K. Sullins, Sarah Moody Thomas, Mary B. Timpton, Betty Lipscomb Walker, Barbara Jones Wells, Florida Lagarde Woods.
By 1997, the Pontchartrain Chapter left an early international footprint through its support of The DeLille Academy in Dangriga, Belize. Founded by The Sisters of the Holy Family and the oldest order of African American nuns in the United States, the school provides educational opportunities to students who would not otherwise receive higher education. Chapter members provided educational materials and equipment and supplies for student’s vocational training while also helping the school secure web-based communication and e-learning capabilities.
In 1999, one trombone and two trumpets were donated to O. Perry Walker High School, marking the first of many annual donations of musical instruments to area public school bands. Since that time, “Links Keep the Music Playing” has continued with the donation of instruments to public school and community band programs including Joseph S. Clark Senior High School, The Roots of Music Marching Band, the Don Jamison Heritage School of Music, Joseph A. Craig Elementary School, and, most recently, McDonogh 35 Senior High School. In addition, to heighten students’ appreciation of the arts, the Chapter supported the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Jazz Camp and collaborated with the Dillard University Department of Music to sponsor “Opera Under the Stars,” a program that introduces high school and college students to opera.
Understanding the power of the vote, since 2000, the Chapter’s “Links Get Out the Vote” campaign focused on getting residents and college students to register and vote in presidential elections, mayoral contests, and other local campaigns. To increase the reach and impact of this initiative, the Chapter joined forces with other community organizations, including the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW), New Orleans Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the African American Women of Purpose and Power (AAWPP). Completing our circle of civic responsibility is our annual participation in the “Louisiana Links Day at the Capitol,” where we join other Links members from across the state to advocate for legislation benefiting those we serve.
Ever committed to the arts, 2001 marked an important partnership between the Pontchartrain Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, its sister Chapters, the New Orleans and the Crescent City Chapters of The Links, Incorporated, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Amistad Research Center with the commission of a musical composition by Hannibal Lokumbe, “Gumbo a la Freedom: The Spices of Leah Chase.”
In October 2002, the Pontchartrain Chapter partnered with the New Orleans Opera Association, Dillard University, and the University of New Orleans to give community members access to international opera star, Marquita Lister. During her visit to perform “Salome,” Ms. Lister conducted an opera workshop at Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School and performed “Music of African American Composers and the Voice of the Spiritual” at Dillard University.
In 2006, the Chapter kicked off its award-winning LEAP Tutoring Program at Schaumberg Elementary School, assisting 4th grade students in writing and math each Saturday beginning early January until the LEAP test is administered in March. The tutoring program continued until 2012, during which time, activities at Schaumberg expanded to include the “Links Read” program for Kindergarten and 1st-grade students. Chapter members read to the younger children in their classrooms several times a year and gave each child a book to take home.
In 2007, Chapter members capped off their longstanding relationship with the DeLille Academy by traveling to Belize to visit the school. Members interacted with school administrators and teachers and conducted student workshops in advanced sewing techniques and food safety. These skills improved students’ employability after graduation.
From 2010 to 2012, the Chapter centered many of its efforts at Craig Elementary School with the implementation of the innovative Childhood Obesity Prevention Program and interactive Arts Education program for 3rd and 4th-grade students. The Heatlinks Program, which targets African American women over 40 and focuses on heart health through proper diet and exercise, was successfully presented at St. Maria Goretti Church and Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
In 2010, The Chapter also initiated a new multi-faceted Umbrella Program, “Project LIFE – Links Increasing Food and Energy,” to decrease poverty and hunger by providing food and household supplies to the needy. Since its inception, this initiative increased the amount of food available for distribution by the Just the Right Attitude (JTRA) Food Bank in New Orleans by more than 20,000 pounds. Because hunger and poverty are experienced worldwide, the Pontchartrain Chapter also sought to assist an organization serving the impoverished outside the United States and selected the orphanage and school operated by the Hope for Haitian Children Foundation, Inc. in Delmas, Haiti. Chapter members have donated clothing and supplies, funds to purchase bulk food items, and nearly 300 Women’s Survival Kits (filled with personal hygiene items) for distribution by the Foundation to Haitian women in crisis.
In September 2012, the Chapter moved toward transformational involvement by concentrating its programming to address multiple needs in one location...McDonogh 35 Preparatory High School. Established in 1917 in New Orleans, McDonogh 35 became the first public four-year high school for African American pupils in the state of Louisiana. The mission of McDonogh 35, “to encourage academic excellence for all students in challenging and interactive programs that are supported by teachers, staff, students, parents and community, aligns with the mission of our organization.
First, the Pontchartrain Chapter initiated The LINKS Reaching New Heights mentoring program for 7th, 8th and 9th-grade girls addressing their unique academic and psychosocial needs. The program is designed to assist the girls in developing into confident, competent, capable young women, well prepared for college and a bright future. Chapter members lead age-appropriate activities and interactive discussions of topics of interest to adolescents and representative of the organization’s program facets; Health and Human Services, The Arts, National Trends and Services, International Trends and Services all under the auspices of the Services to Youth facet. Money management, conflict resolution, college preparation, career options and knowing your body are among the topics of discussion. This umbrella program also provides academic tutoring, field trips and outside enrichment activities for the mentees. Parental involvement and consistent participation are required to continue in the program. The growth and development of the mentees has been mutually rewarding.
In 2013, the Chapter deepened its commitment to McDonogh 35 by implementing a multi-faceted initiative that also supports arts and music education for all students enrolled in those courses. By obtaining a grant from the Jazz and Heritage Foundation the Chapter doubled the resources available to McDonogh 35 through its Links Keep the Music Playing program and increased opportunities for student participation in juried art competitions. To expose students to international governance, members of the International Trends facet successfully implemented the Model United Nations Program in a freshman world geography class. We have continued to expand of our efforts at McDonogh 35.
Determined to strengthen its support for the recovery of the people of Haiti, the Chapter took a leap of faith. In 2014, the International Trends and Services facet took its first mission trip to the country. Members packed, delivered and distributed Women’s Survival Kits, conducted health education sessions, partnered with other volunteers to feed a village and established the Pontchartrain Links Library at the school operated by the Hope for Haitian Children Foundation, Inc. in Delmas, Haiti. While this trip represented our increased commitment to assist our international neighbors, it marked the beginning of the Chapter’s annual mission to Haiti. Our service mission has gained recognition and momentum. Members from chapters throughout the Southern Area seek to support this initiative and to join the mission team.