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Members of the Northern Virginia chapter of Jack and Jill of America. (AFRO Photo/Lauren Poteat)

The Northern Virginia chapter of Jack and Jill of America will host a gala March 5 to celebrate 50 years of service to area Black children between the ages of two and 19.

The event’s proceeds will raise money for the Alternative House for Abused and Homeless Children and the Jack and Jill of America national organization.

“I’ve always had a passion for children,” Pauline Ellison, founder of the Northern Virginia Chapter, told the AFRO. “During the 2 years I lived in Germany I developed and implemented programs for Black American-German orphans and American Girl Scouts. When I returned to the states, segregation and racism were still rampant and I wanted to create a space where other Black children could see other and families doing positive things, never limiting themselves to racism. That’s why Jack and Jill is important and why I am so honored after 50 years.”

Ellison’s chapter, founded in 1966, is part of the oldest and largest Black family organization in the U.S., focused on enrichment of youth with extension into the community. The national theme of Jack and Jill is “Power to make a difference.” The northern Virginia chapter builds on this through their youth programs, primarily centered around leadership development, awareness of cultural heritage, and community service.

Various chapter programs include STEAM projects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math), The Healthy Living Initiative, centered on lifestyle improvements and healthy development, and food and clothes drives benefitting local shelters.

“Academics and civic service in children is vital,” Ellison said. “Black children everywhere should know that they have no limits and are equal to their White counterparts. We are more than just a social gathering, but a glimpse that Black success can be found anywhere.”

The gala will also pay tribute to Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a mentor in STEAM academic programs for Black youth.

“It is such as honor and humbling moment to stand on the shoulders of giants, recognizing the past and looking towards the future,” said Tara Dunlap, the current president of the Northern Virginia Chapter of Jack and Jill. “It’s about bringing together children in social and cultural relationships, always focusing on youth development and civic service.”

In the coming year, Dunlap hopes to increase awareness of the organization’s efforts and implement more educational, community-based programs for children of every economic background.

“Within the next five years, I would like to see Jack and Jill empower youth leadership, cultural heritage, and community service beyond the U.S., so that Black youths traveling may know that anywhere they go, they will see people just like them in the same positions and be comforted, because that’s what Jack and Jill is all about, taking care of our youth,” Ellison said.

The event takes place at Tysons Corner Marriott in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Tickets for the event are priced between $125 and $150. For more information on tickets, visit www.nova.jackandjillonline.org.