The Meridian Star
By Ida Brown
An evening reminiscent of the Swinging '20s – glitz and glamour, lively music, decadent food and fun – will be experienced by those attending this year's Junior Auxiliary of Meridian.
The Gatsby-themed event will offer a elegant, yet entertaining respite following the hustle and bustle of the holiday season – as well as new energy for the highly anticipated football playoffs. And, raise funds to support the JA's many service projects.
"The ball is our biggest one-night fundraiser for the community," said Kristen Hill, president of the Junior Auxiliary of Meridian.
In addition to food and music, the evening will feature a silent auction (featuring a Samuel Adams Brewery Private Tour, a Caba San Lucas Ocean View Getaway, autographed albums, a Rolling Stones guitar and Ringo Starr drumhead, original movie posters, a Muhammad Ali Boxing Glove and more) and casino games such as Black Jack, Roulette, Craps and Texas Hold 'Em Poker.
But there's more to the 72-year-old organization than having fun. Making a difference in the lives of children is of paramount importance to JA members. In fact, proceeds from the ball (which started out as just a party) are used to fund the Meridian chapter's many causes dedicated to helping ensure the health, education and well-being of Meridian and Lauderdale County children.
Organized in 1941, the Meridian Junior Auxiliary is one of 10 charter chapters of the National Association of Junior Auxiliaries (NAJA) Inc. and is one of 102 active chapters in the Southeast.
NAJA was founded on the principles of making a difference in the lives of children. The auxiliary is a national, non-profit organization that encourages its members to render charitable services beneficial to the general public, with particular emphasis on children.
Meridian Junior Auxiliary facilitates seven community-acclaimed and approved service projects dedicated to touching the lives of children from kindergarten through high school. The chapter, which boasts a membership of 68 – averages more than 3,000 hours each year to help the children of today become productive citizens of tomorrow.
"We represent a commitment on the part of women who are interested in active community participation and assuming leadership roles in meeting community needs," Hill said.
Following is a brief summary of the local auxiliary's projects:
• Snacks with Santa – Last year Breakfast with Santa helped gather 242 toys that benefited the children of the Wesley House. Snacks with Santa will focus on the children of Meridian by bringing Santa directly to the Boys & Girls Club, the Wesley House and to the public at Merry Meridian Market.
• Community Outreach – This includes two projects:
– Mini Grants: Teacher mini grants are awarded to area teachers to enhance classroom curriculum. More than $10,000 is awarded annually to enrich education for local children.
– Girls’ State: Last year JA sponsored two local representatives to attend Girls’ State, where young women learn about the political process at the local and state levels by participating in simulated political conventions, elections, trials and city projects.
• Cinderella's Closet – The fairy godmothers of Junior Auxiliary of Meridian provided 12 local high school girls with a “new” Prom dress, shoes and jewelry. Each girl received a gift bag with a gift certificate from a local hair salon , makeup and nail polish to make her feel and look like a true Princess. The auxiliary also partnered with Hope Village to provide residents with dresses for their dance. With the help of local businesses and donations of dresses, jewelry and shoes from the public, these young girls were able to go to their high school proms.
• Community Events – Watch for JA members at Meridian’s Candy Crawl, Art Crawl and the Three Foot Festival. During the Candy and Art Crawl, members will collaborate with Meridian Main Street. At the Three-Foot Festival, DNA Collection Kits will be available and local police officers will assist with children identification finger printing.
• Helping Hands – Junior Auxiliary works closely with school nurses, counselors, administrators and social workers to provide essential items to students who are vital to their learning environment. Last year, JA met the needs of 63 children by providing 120 pairs of pants, 116 shirts, 115 jackets and five pairs of eyeglasses to children in the Meridian and Lauderdale County Public School systems.
• JAMS (Junior Auxiliary MentorS) – Junior Auxiliary continues to support Hope Village through providing encouragement, motivation, mentoring and fun projects for residents. JA members participate in the following activities and more.
• Canvas Painting
• Flower Planting and Potting
• Pumpkin Carving
• Run for Hope
• Cupcake Decorating
• Cinderella’s Closet
• Reality Check
• RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) – Through donations from generous sponsors, funding from the Phil Hardin Foundation and National RIF program, Junior Auxiliary has distributed thousands of books to children in Lauderdale County. This year, in addition to providing children with access to printed materials, JA members read to kindergarten students.
“Giving children access to print materials improves reading performance,“ according to a study conducted by Learning Point Associates. Among studies reviewed, it was shown that kindergarten students had the biggest increase in reading performance.
Another highlight of the annual charity ball will be the announcement of the recipient of the 2014 Humanitarian Award. Each year, JA of Meridian honors a local person for their efforts to better the community. This year's recipient is Tiffany Plott, principal of Carver Middle School.
"She has created a community throughout the school, as well the surrounding community. She has completely changed the whole culture of Carver," Hill said.
In the nomination letter for Plott, the following was noted: "Tiffany has shown amazing creativity; openness to students, parents and staff; a desire to educate the whole child; a need for consistent and fair discipline, and an emphasis on he relationship with the individual child. While the test scores may not reflect the vast improvements she has made, it is apparent to all that are involved with Carver that the school is now thriving under her direction and that students are excelling both academically and personally."
The Humanitarian Award will be presented at the start of the evening's festivities.