Since 1994, the Pontchartrain (LA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated has been making a difference in the New Orleans community.

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 in their desire to perpetuate and support civic, charitable, philanthropic, eduational, and cultural endeavors that contribute to our community. The group named itself the Metropolitan Area Guild and thrived under the mentorship of Lydia Sindos Adams of the Crescent City (LA) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.

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 - 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.   

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.  

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 the city 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.

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, the oldest order of African American nuns in the United States, the school provides educational opportunities to students who would not otherwise receive higher secondary education. Chapter members provided educational materials, equipment, and supplies for  student’s  vocational training while also helping the school secure web-based communication and e-learning capabilities.

Equally aware of the needs of local residents, especially among women and their children, the Pontchartrain Chapter donated toiletries and personal items to female residents of the New Orleans Mission, a 30-day emergency shelter for homeless women. When The Refuge, a longterm shelter at the Mission was built, the Chapter stepped up its commitment by providing clothing and financial support for the residents. The Chapter also supported Liberty House, a transitional shelter for young mothers ages 16 to 25, by supplying infant clothing and food for the babies, and food, toiletries and personal items for the mothers. Similarly, to help teen-mothers stay in school, the Pontchartrain Chapter supported the Carver Day Care Center on the campus of Carver Senior High School. Chapter members collected and delivered items for mothers and their children and provided electronic equipment and supplies for the Center that included books and materials on early childhood development and effective parenting. 

                   


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. 

There are few enticements more powerful than the offer of a good meal. The Chapter’s work with Kid’s Café exposed children between the ages of four and fifteen to restaurant-style dining experiences and coupled dining etiquette, healthy eating habits and reading with the opportunity to alleviate hunger among children and adults participating in this after school program.

 Cognizant of health disparities affecting our community, Pontchartrain Chapter members worked to raise awareness of the underrepresentation of African American donors on bone marrow registries through the “Linkages to Life” program. In partnership with Heart of America Bone Marrow Registry, the Chapter sponsored donor registration drives. Chapter members also took an interest in the health and wellbeing of senior citizens providing equipment and furnishings for the New Directions Day Adult Day Care Center, holiday food baskets and regularly spending time interacting with senior attendees. Similar services were provided for residents of the John Hainkel Rehabilitation Center. 

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina brought an end to several of the Chapter’s initiatives as residents and members relocated to cities across the country. Despite the distance, Chapter members worked to    reestablish themselves, their city and their beloved Pontchartrain Chapter.   

In  2006, the Chapter kicked off  its award winning  LEAP Tutoring Program at Schaumburg Elementary School, assisting 4th grade students in writing and math each Saturday beginning early January until the LEAP test is annually administered in March. The tutoring program continued until 2012, during which time, activities at Schaumburg 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 Heartlinks to Health 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 Catholic 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 East by more than 20,000 pounds. Because hunger and poverty are experienced world-wide, 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 for distribution by the Foundation to Haitian women in crisis.

 

 

In September 2012, the Chapter moved toward transformational involvement by concentrating its programming efforts 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,” is consistent with the mission of our organization.  

First, the Pontchartrain Chapter initiated the, LINKS Reaching New Heights mentoring program for 7th, 8th and 9th grade females in hopes of addressing their unique academic and psychosocial needs. The program is designed to assist the young ladies through graduation to become confident, competent, capable young women who are well prepared for college and a bright future. Chapter members lead age-appropriate activities and interactive discussions that interest these adolescent girls and represent the organization’s program facets of Health and Human Services, The Arts, National Trends and Services, International Trends and Services, and especially Services to Youth. “Money Management,” “Conflict Resolution,” “College Preparation,” “Career Options,” and “Knowing Your Body” are among recent topics of discussion. This integrated program also provides field trips and outside enrichment activities for the mentees.

In 2013, the Chapter expanded 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 look forward to continued support and expansion of our efforts at McDonogh 35.

All of this work has been accomplished by women who are committed to the uplift of those in need, work well together on common goals, and demonstrate effective leadership skills. These attributes foster true community advocacy and the work of the Pontchartrain Chapter of the Links, Incorporated has not gone unnoticed. Members of the Pontchartrain Chapter have served in leadership roles at all levels of Linkdom. Eneid A. Francis, currently the 18th Southern Area Director has served as Legislative Linkage, Southern Area Secretary, and Southern Area Vice Director. Cori B. Cooper serves as the Southern Area Program Chair and Kiana Aaron Mitchell is a member of the Southern Area Ethics and Standards Committee. On the National level, Carolyn E. Lewis serves as the Financial Secretary for The Links Foundation, Incorporated and Hattie M. Broussard serves on the National Assembly Conference and Event Planning Committee (ACEP). 

The Pontchartrain Chapter’s programming efforts have also garnered accolades at both the area (regional) and national level; awards include: 

  • 1999 - 3rd Place, International Trends and Services, 35th Southern Area Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • 2001 - 3rd Place, National Trends and Services, 36th Southern Area Conference, Birmingham, Alabama
  • 2003 - 1st First Place, The Arts; 2nd Place, Umbrella Programs; and Area Director’s Award, 37th Southern Area Conference, Nassau, Bahamas
  • 2004 - 2nd Place, The Arts (“Links Keep the Music Playing”) 34th National Assembly, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2008 - 1st Place, Services to Youth, 36th National Assembly, Seattle, Washington for the Schaumburg Elementary 4th grade LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) tutorial program
  • 2012 – Best Practice Program, Umbrella Programs, 38th National Assembly, Orlando, Florida for “Project LIFE” – Links Increasing Food and Energy
  • 2013 – Best Practice Program, Umbrella Programs, 42nd Southern Area Conference, Miami, Florida for Project LIFE

The Pontchartrain Chapter’s commitment to innovative and effective programming has positively impacted African Americans and people of African descent not only in the greater New Orleans community, but also internationally. If the Chapter’s first 20 years are any indication, the metropolitan area may expect transformational programming and committed service for many years to come.

 

 

 

 

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