Spotlight on Jack and Jill of America Inc., a national mother-and-child organization with a chapter here in Columbus.
You might say that sitting on several college acceptance letters is a nice problem to have. But Taylor LaFollette is awaiting responses from several more colleges before she makes a final decision on her first step to medical school.
The senior at Columbus School for Girls did not get lucky - she earned it. And Taylor attributes much of her readiness to her involvement in Jack and Jill of America Inc., a national mother-and-child organization with a chapter here in Columbus.
"Being a part of Jack and Jill allows me to be around like-minded individuals." Taylor said. "I learn how to carry myself and grow and become a leader. As I go into the real world, I am more confident.
Jack and Jill instilled leadership and service. In doing that, I am better prepared for the future."
Jack and Jill is an organization for African-American mothers and their children, who range in age from 2 through 19. The children grow through the program, picking up skills in leadership, philanthropy and financial literacy along the way.
The organization was founded in Philadelphia in 1938 as a way to provide access to opportunities that African-American children might not otherwise have had. During the last seven decades, the resources and opportunities have expanded exponentially. While the need for the organization has changed over the years, its purpose has not.
"It's all about the kids, and seeing kids evolve and develop into young adults, said Kelley Gray, president of the Columbus chapter. "It's about being a productive adult and equipping them with the tools they need and exposing them to different ways of getting there."
The children meet monthly and are separated by age groups. The parents devise age-appropriate activities that meet the established learning modules issued by the national office of Jack and Jill.
Those changing topics include focus on legislature, finance, culture, health and fitness, and community service among many others.
The organization's success can be attributed to creative programs like a day-long seminar on how to become a doctor or visiting the Statehouse to learn how a bill becomes law.
"You find and create good programs that allow the kids to be the best they can be," Gray said.
Many of the programming projects center on philanthropy. These projects include a recent fundraising effort for the Columbus Boys & Girls Club and volunteering time at Mid-Ohio Foodbank and the YWCA. Taylor, who also serves as the Senior Team President for the local chapter, says all of the members get a lot of joy from helping others.
"It is a rewarding experience," Taylor said. "It inspires us to stay involved in the organization and helps us realize that what we are doing is important."
Taylor's mother, Angela LaFollette, has seen her daughter grow to become self-reliant, confident and willing to take risks to make her world a better place to live. LaFollette believes that these life-long lessons derive from single moments that strike a chord with the kids when they are exposed to something new.
"Seeing that passion generated in my daughter and other kids is incredible," LaFollette said. "You never know what kind of exposure will be the soil to fertilize that growth."
The lessons learned indeed last a lifetime. Dr. Cynthia Fleming-Corley is a testament to that. She was involved in Jack and Jill as a child and now her own children - 7-year old Austin and 10-year old Olivia - are active members.
"It was such a meaningful experience for me as a child," Fleming-Corley said. "It helps develop character and builds friends for years, so it was important for us to get our kids involved."
Fleming-Corley, who was involved in a Jack and Jill chapter in New York, says the bonds formed by the families involved in the organization are as important as the experiences. As her children go onto college and begin careers, they will likely encounter many other Jack and Jill members along the way like she did.
For kids in the 200 Jack and Jill chapters across the country, that kind of relationship building, personal growth and worldly experience is unmatched.