St. Charles Women’s Club celebrates 50 years of giving

The St. Charles Women’s Club is a social club dedicated to having some fun, but its 179 members will celebrate its 50th anniversary as an organization that has been doing it all in the name of helping others.

The party will begin at the group’s Annual Christmas Luncheon at 10 a.m. Dec. 17 where they will celebrate this milestone at Tchoupitoulas Plantation in Waggaman.

Since 1966 the St. Charles Women’s Club has been a nonprofit civic and social organization. With the club motto of “Making a difference, this group’s purpose is to unite the women of St. Charles Parish in service to the community.

It’s working.

“Though we have many social events sponsored by the club, our main focus continues to be in one in which we aid the community,” said Regina Allemand, publicity chair and 22-year member. “Our club includes many natives of the area joined by women who have moved here from all over the world. This extraordinary mix has provided a wonderful opportunity for the member to learn about many different cultures while striving to fulfill our civic responsibilities.”

During the year, the club provides both time and funds for many volunteer programs that help improve education in the parish. Each year, the funds raised by the club are distributed to benefit various charities and service organizations in the community.

One of the presentations planned for the anniversary celebration will feature member Rita Carlson who joined the Women’s Club in its early years and helped initiate the club’s efforts to start special education classes that grew into an effort that has become known as the ARC of St. Charles.

“We started in 1971 to get it started,” said Carlson, who is a special education teacher. “They wanted a worthwhile community project.”

The group worked with Ivon “Cookie” Gomez who helped make it a parishwide effort that qualified for state and United Way funds to help establish the ARC, she said. They started with special education classes for preschoolers and those over 18 years old.

“It took about 1-1/2 years to get the ARC started,” Carlson said. “The initial base budget was under $70,000 and now it’s about $4 million. We worked several years on doing that and then we started doing things overall for nonprofits.”

The Women’s Club continues to help support ARC.

Naming all the organizations that have received club funding over its many years of existence would be too numerous to name, but the list reads like a who’s who in community supporters dedicating to improving the parish.

More recent recipients include the St. Charles Art Guild, St. Charles Humane Society, Alpha Daughter of Zion; Assistance for Single Parents; Community Chorus, Creative Family Solutions; Destrehan High Schools Senior Citizen Program; German Coast Farmer’s Market; Junior Achievement, Pink Ladies; River Region Ballet Inc.; River Road Historical Society; St. Charles Borromeo Ministry of Care; St. Charles Museum & Historical Association; St. Charles Parish Humane Society; St. Charles Parish Sheriff Explorer’s Post; St. Charles Parish Schools Head Start; St. Charles Social Concerns; and St. Charles United Methodist Church.

Anyone can apply for the funds with applications reviewed at the end of the year and the allocation based on how the group helps the community.

Carolyn Olson, first vice president and program chair, said the group started 50 years ago with three women, including Wanda McClung and Francis Greenfield, who moved here and agreed there wasn’t much for them to do in the parish and started meeting at each other’s homes.

The Women’s Club started when families moved to the area for their husband’s work. They needed an outlet that was both socially and civically empowering, and it turned out there were a lot of women who wanted just such an outlet.

According to Allemand, “It was formed when Union Carbide had people transferring in. There were a lot of ladies that didn’t know how to meet up with other ladies. So when that came about that’s when the local ladies got together as well as some people that were coming in from different states.”

Three grew into 16 and when they and when they made the lunch meetings the group grew to 60 and kept on growing.

From these roots, Olson said the group mobilized and started looking for causes.

“The whole purpose of the organization is to help each other and do social things, but it’s about raising money to give back to the community,” Olson said. “We raise money all year and we hold two main events – the November auction and the main event is the Tea Cup Auction held in March.”

Members donate items for the Tea Cup Auction, which is the group’s main fundraiser held in spring. The group’s Autumn Auction has an auctioneer and members have paddles like it’s a regular auction.

Allemand said the Women’s Club is actively seeking a new civic venture to mark its next 50 years, but she emphasized when it’s named it will again be something that makes a difference.

Olson said their group’s purpose is clear: “When it comes down to it“we’re about making everything in St. Charles Parish better.”

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