BALTIMORE — A small group of African American women in Baltimore have continued their pledge to help young people realize their academic abilities.
The Baltimore chapter of Continental Societies, Inc., an international nonprofit that has been in existence for more than a half century, has partnered with the Empowerment Academy with a goal of providing services to at-risk children in the areas of health, education, employment, recreation and the arts.
On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, the group hosted a new program, “A Taste of Books,” in which students at the academy could experience rich literature with a focus on a wide variety of foods, including apples, strawberries and other delicacies.
The students were invited to make and eat apple pie, cupcakes, snacks and other dishes made from the foods they read about in the various books.
“Each of the books that we [came in] to read to the students have a relationship with food,” said Dolores Winston, the founder of the Empowerment Academy and a member of the Baltimore Continentals. “For instance, we read the book, ‘10 Apples up on Top,’ which focuses on apples. With the ‘Taste of Books,’ being the focus, the children will then have apple pie so that they can not only understand what they read but taste what they’re reading,” Winston said.
The premise is to increase literacy through understanding, according to Winston, a former elementary school principal. Each month members of the Continentals arrive at the Empowerment Academy and read various books to children.
Winston says that the children are often excited when they see one of the members roaming the hallways or enter the building.
“They usually don’t always remember our names at first, but what they do remember and they proudly yell out to us is, ‘hey, book buddy,” Winston said.
Educating children is a hallmark for the Continentals who began as a small group of young black women residing in Baltimore City.
Those women, who included Helen Quarles, Helen Gattis and Lillie Branch, became members of the Continental Society of the Virgin Islands more than 50 years ago. Their initial foray into the organization was sponsored by the Washington, D.C. chapter, according to the organization’s biography.
In all, 16 members of the Baltimore chapter were installed and shortly afterward, they along with chapters in Philadelphia, Newport News, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., withdrew from the national organization to focus on the needs of local children.
“Everyone in our organization are educators,” Winston said. “I come from a background where education was always a priority. It’s imperative that we keep that in mind for the children today.”
The Continentals have worked regularly with children at The Empowerment Academy from kindergarten through third grade, providing books to support class libraries and for classroom instruction.
Winston founded the academy, which has more than 260 students, in her basement more than a decade ago and she said the focus remains on trustworthiness, responsibilities, respect, fairness, caring and citizenship.
“The school’s success is based on the willingness and cooperation of both parents and teachers,” she said.
With the “Taste of Books” event, Winston anticipated very few issues.
“Everyone loves it and its fun for the committee who read the books, for the students who will get to experience the book in a very different way and for the teachers,” she said.