Carolyn L. Higgins – Contributing Writer
Community is a word often spoken without considering the real meaning, but when examined closely it rather profoundly denotes common unity. That was evident at Saturday’s Celebration and Elder Dinner sponsored by One Dozen Who Care (ODWC), a nonprofit organization whose determination is to strengthen leadership among local women and youth to create strong community bonds through common cultural, economic and social interactions in far western North Carolina. The Thanksgiving-style, catered luncheon was held at the Jackson County Family Resource Center in Webster to appreciate elders and highlight achievements of ODWC. A sea of multi-cultural, intergenerational, and interfaith guests enjoyed a lively, meaningful afternoon full of applause and audible appreciation.
The common thread that binds the group is “love of community and commitment to make a positive difference – tearing down walls and building bridges,” said Founder and Executive Director, Ann Miller Woodford.
From humble beginnings 20 years ago in Andrews, N.C., to national acclamation and international participation at several events, for the last 14 years, ODWC has recognized both unsung and well-known leaders in the area. Now located in the homes of board members, it is the first 501(c)(3) Community Development Corporation in far western North Carolina to be organized and incorporated by African American women. Several years ago, the group moved to inclusivity having board members of different ethnicities, including Latino and white, as well as a former white director.
Franklin, once the location of ODWC headquarters on Sloan Road, was well represented at the Elders Dinner. The overflow crowd of approximately 100 included honoree Barbara McRae, historian and vice mayor of Franklin; honoree Selma Sparks, entertainer and civil rights activist; Rev. Mozart Moliere, martial arts instructor and pastor of Burgess Chapel Church in Franklin; along with several members and youth from the church; and Pat Washington, educator, community leader and vice-president of ODWC.
There are two award categories whereby nominees undergo careful consideration. The Emma Cline Moore Awards recognize outstanding community service by African Americans and the ODWC Director’s Awards recognize outstanding contributions of non-African Americans. “Nominees were suggested by board members and community members . . . folks who do their work without fanfare and mostly without pay,” said Woodford. “It gives me joy to see the happy faces of the recipients and to hear what others think of them.”
Nomination letters shared commendable activities from the winners. Sparks, an 87-year old senior who refuses to slow down, was noted for activities with the Macon County Arts Council’s C-Square, visiting senior centers, nursing homes and mental health facilities to provide entertainment and encouragement; helping others in her community, from visiting the sick to helping stock mini-food pantries, her civil rights activities, including news interviews for her marching and speaking in January 2018 to commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sparks says her secret to staying active and youthful is not thinking, “I’m too old to do this,” practicing good nutrition, exercising, dancing and singing. In fact, the crowd chanted for her to dance. She twisted almost to the floor, bringing a roar of laughter and applause.
“I love to dance. It brings me and others joy. I really felt wonderful to think that the things I have been doing here have been recognized. And to be honored for them – I was amazed. It was so beautiful. Find something you are passionate about, find a way to do it and start. Volunteers are needed at the senior center, hospitals and C-Square. When I told my son what I do with C-square, he said, ‘Mom I’m so glad because you’ve always been doing for others.’ I’m a people person, and if I can do something to help other people and to make them feel good, that’s wonderful. I’m learning to keep a sense of humor and to laugh at myself. It amazes people to see the other side.”
McRae, Director’s Award recipient, who shared some of her medical challenges at the urging of Woodford, has been intimately involved with Woodford’s book, “When All God’s Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina,” using her freelance book design and publishing talents to help complete the previously stalled project. She is also involved in initiatives involving tourism, urban revitalization and history, including the Cherokee Heritage Corridor and the concept and implementation of the Women’s History Trail in collaboration with the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County.
“The more I learn about One Dozen Who Care, the more impressed I am,” said McRae. “This group of women exemplifies the meaning of community and inclusion. It was a great honor for me to be entrusted with the layout of Ann Woodford’s book, which was published by ODWC. The lessons I learned from ‘When All God’s Children Get Together’ are imprinted on my heart, and I have witnessed the profound impact the book has had on others. Being awarded the ODWC Director’s Award was humbling and deeply moving.”
McRae shared her love for seeing good things happen in the community and her recipe of encouragement,“Open your heart, share your thoughts and ideas, listen to others, trust them, and work together.” Her driving force is the value attained from everyone’s energy and ideas. That sense of community drives her, whether writing about history or sitting in a planning session.
With so much on her plate, she has learned to prioritize.
“It is tempting to pursue every butterfly in the field. I try to narrow my focus to what I see as both important and doable. There are many, many wonderful things going on in our community that I would love to be more deeply involved with, but I recognize the limitations of my time and energy. Right now my focus is on health and fitness, community building, women’s history, and the natural world. That’s a lot, but I have great partners in each of those areas.”
Other honorees included, Director’s Award recipient, educator and community volunteer Pamela Carman of Andrews for her work with veterans and children, and most notably the first non-African American to join ODWC. Elder Turial Turner of Murphy, Mary Sue Casey of Sylva and Betty Jean Nicely Dorsey of Hayesville were also Emma Cline Moore honorees.
ODWC Humble Beginnings
Vice president Washington shared that she joined ODWC several years ago at a meeting where she heard stories of the group’s formation. She was moved to see women from different walks of life that were determined to break the silence plaguing blacks at that time. When artist, author, businesswoman, and activist Woodford returned to her native Andrews from California, she shared how painful it was to be pushed to the back – not being seen, not being heard. She led a charge for women to step forward and contribute $100 each so they could get matching funds.
“What touched me was how 12 came back and paid $100,” said Washington. “One lady with several children and three jobs, including domestic work and fast food, placed $100 cash on the table. It still sends chills through my bones. That’s how they got the name from these first 12 who were determined and dedicated to make things better in the black community.”
Washington recounted achievements, including a business center and expert-led classes for the general public, such as computers, English as a Second Language, photography, and more. Veterans and others have had waived fees for courses priced from $5 to $25. Youth also benefited from the 10-10-10 Program for ages 10 to 14, requiring completion of 10 projects in 10 months. ODWC has also provided youth scholarships and sponsored field trips to restaurants, art and civil rights museums, and the Native-American museum in Cherokee – all to enhance their cultural awareness.
She said one of the hallmark events each year is the Multicultural Women’s Development Conference that will be held at the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, April 12-13, 2019. The conference is an event with a national draw that provides scholarships and usually attracts about 100 women.
More members of the community
The Board of Directors recognized with appreciation advisors, major benefactors and donors. Dr. Emory Prescott became engaged when she heard the vision and came on board providing leadership and funding for the college scholarship endowment. She has helped to grow the fund to $34,000. Pam Meister, director of the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU, has been instrumental in curating and promoting the traveling exhibit, “All God’s Children” that is a key project of ODWC. And, the board recognized their own including president, Patricia Hall, board member, Marion Pryce-White, and former chair of the Elder Dinner committee and caterer, Stella Moore.
Many people want to help their communities, but don’t know where to start. Woodford says, “They should join a group like One Dozen Who Care, Inc. and make a deliberate decision to do the right thing across the lines of race, religion, ethnicity, and age.” For more information visit www.onedozenwhocare.org or call (828) 321-1000 or (828) 371-0363.