Meet An Organization Boasting More Than 90 Years of Volunteering Service in the Triangle
Community change can’t be created through donations alone. Mary DesChamps and “sisters” in the Wake County area know this well because for more than 90 years, their sorority chapter has built a culture around volunteering.
They call themselves the “Ladies in Pink and Green” but you might know their organization by another name: Alpha Theta Omega.
Alpha Theta Omega is a chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), which was founded at Howard University in 1908 and now holds the title for oldest African American sorority in the world. And having been chartered in 1928, the local Alpha Theta Omega chapter is just a few months shy of being the oldest AKA chapter in the Triangle area.
“Giving back to the community is the reason for Alpha Theta Omega’s existence. In fact, ‘Service to All Mankind’ is the heart of the sorority. And there is so much need in our world,” shares Mary DesChamps, President of the Triangle-area chapter.
In a recent interview with United Way of the Greater Triangle in honor of National Volunteering Month, Mary shared that her chapter’s act of service started with contributing $50 in a scholarship to a senior at the old Washington High School and a $70 donation to help supply books to Shaw University’s new (at the time) public library. Those contributions would amount to more than $1,800 today.
By 1937, the organization’s scholarship initiatives had transformed into a full-fledged annual program for senior high school girls wanting to attend college and it continues today. According to Mary, this year’s participants will collectively be awarded scholarships in excess of $100,000!
83 years later and Alpha Theta Omega’s members actively participate in at least five regular acts of service throughout each year including:
- Providing tax preparation, financial planning, and credit repair assistance for adults as well as sessions on the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement for the middle and high school students living at the Salvation Army’s Judy D. Zelnak Center of Hope shelter. The Chapter also provides meals, Christmas gifts, and personal hygiene and baby supplies as needed.
- Collecting and donating used eyeglasses and hearing aids to the Southeast Raleigh Lions Club.
- Working with the U. S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants – NC to collect household items that help to supply two welcome home packages used by people in forced or voluntary migration situations.
- Conducting community sessions on women’s healthcare and wellness, specifically in the areas of heart health, breast cancer awareness and care for the caregiver. While everyone is welcome, the Chapter makes a special effort to reach women who may not have access to such information.
- Participating in a service project on the annual MLK Day of Service. This year, the Chapter chose to support United Way of the Greater Triangle’s efforts to pack STEM literacy kits for students served by both The Daniel Center for Math and Science (Wake County) and My Kid’s Club (Johnston County).
In fact, Alpha Theta Omega has been volunteering with United Way for several years. Mary fondly remembers working hard alongside volunteers of local undergraduate chapters from North Carolina State University, Saint Augustine’s University, and Shaw University in 2018 to create task cards for local elementary students.
“We assembled on the floor, in the bleachers, and wherever we could find a seat to complete the task cards,” Mary explains. “This assignment had particular significance to us because education is one of the targets of our organization. We felt a heightened gratitude to United Way for this activity which underscored the need for education, and its pivotal role in today’s society.”
Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, Alpha Theta Omega is committed to continuing to support this community. They’re just changing their methods temporarily and using social media to distribute healthcare and wellness information, reaching out to students virtually, mailing scholarship award letters, and making phone calls to regularly encourage and check on the local senior community. They’re also answering requests for nonperishable foods from nonprofit organizations including Oak City Cares, a United Way-funded partner.
“These methods are only temporary. As soon as restrictions from COVID-19 are lifted, Alpha Theta Omega will resume its community volunteerism and service in person,” says Mary. “We will continue to be a force for good when the opportunity to serve presents itself. Our mission remains ‘To Be of Service to All Mankind.’”
To learn more about Alpha Theta Omega and their commitment to volunteering, visit alphathetaomega-aka.org