The Greater Hartford Chapter of Jack & Jill of America, Inc. was founded in 1958 by a small group of mothers who wanted to expand the social, cultural, and extracurricular opportunities for their children in The Greater Hartford community. At the time there were chapters in many of the large cities in the Northeast, and Hartford, the state capital, was thought to be an obvious place to establish a chapter of this quickly expanding national organization. The first chapter president was Jean Bell.
The Chapter thrived for decades, but then lost many members as they move to the distant suburbs of Hartford. The chapter was rebuilt in the 90’s by the dedication of several mothers who felt it was more important than ever to have a haven for African American children in these disparate suburbs. Our 17th president Lauren Jones was instrumental in the rebuilding of the chapter.
Over the years, the Hartford Chapter has sponsored many ongoing community service activities. We have an ongoing relationship with My Sister’s Place, a shelter for battered women, The Village for Children and Families, and Mercy Mission Shelter. We continue to partner with the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Hartford to provide those children with new pajamas each Christmas season. Our current community service thrust is to support organizations that seek to solve the problem food insecurity at home and a broad, and to increase the early literacy skills of black and brown children in the Greater Hartford Community. We have had a long-term relationship with FoodShare, an organization that serves as the region’s food bank. It helps people in two ways: by supplying food to local service bodies and through programs that build self sufficiency and reduce the need for food. We have given thousands of dollars to this concern over the years.
In 2016, we donated $4,000 to Hands on Hartford’s weekend backpack program that sends food insecure children home from school with food for their families each weekend. Our focus on early childhood literacy has been demonstrated by our yearly book drives in which books have been donated to local Hartford Public Schools. We have focused on increasing the literacy skills of our own children through a chapter wide J and J Book Club, and have also encouraged our mothers to continue to read to their children.
In June of 2016, we installed a Little Free Library in the North End of the city of Hartford so that all children and their parents could have easy access to a variety of books for free. We will continue to work on improving early childhood literacy in urban children.
The mothers of our chapter strive to provide creative and productive cultural programming for the active minds of our youth. We are fortunate to be in the Hartford area, which is rich in culture, history and the arts. We also have access to Boston and New York City for special programs and activities. We donated $1,000 to The Amistad Center for Art and Culture to help fund the building of their new gallery space and were recognized by the Amistad Center this past summer for our strategic partnership with and financial support of the Center. We believe creating alliances with local institutions allows us to contribute to the cultural landscape of The Greater Hartford community, while exposing our local community to Jack and Jill of America Inc. as a national organization.
Our chapter continues to honor and celebrate our heritage at every opportunity and especially at the annual Black History celebration. Our past themes have included African American History Jeopardy, African American Inventors during the Renaissance. Three years ago we celebrated the 50th anniversary of The 1963 Civil Rights Act in conjunction with our Black History Month Celebration, and two years ago we honored our families and ‘our stories’ by creating a film based on the oral histories of our chapter members. This Black Oral History Project allowed our children to interview elders in their family, film them, and learn much more about history and their own identity. The Greater Hartford Chapter inducted 9 new mother members in May 2016. A formal sponsorship and mentoring program was instituted in the 2005-2006 program year. This allows each new member to be paired with a more experienced member with children in the same age group for a period of two years to ensure successful assimilation into the Chapter. We will continue this program with our current inductees, and expect that our robust new class of mother members will thoroughly enhance the quality of our chapter overall.