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Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.[R] Beta Pi Omega Chapter: Champion for Community Service.

If Little Rock had a Most Productive Women of Arkansas award, the members of the Beta Pi Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority would surely be top contenders. From meetings to mentoring to volunteering, the service organization, established in 1937, typically has up to 10 service and chapter events happening each month.

And when a woman joins Alpha Kappa Alpha, it is a lifetime commitment.

Current Beta Pi Omega president Katrina Owoh said the 268 active members in the chapter are encouraged to serve on at least two committees, which gives them plenty of opportunities to impact the local community.

Alpha Kappa Alpha is an international organization and the first African-American sorority founded in the United States. Leadership changes every four years, and each incoming international president brings a new opportunity to refresh the organization's focus. Alpha Kappa Alpha's international president sets the agenda for the next four years, and each of the more than 1,000 chapters, like Beta Pi Omega, are responsible for deciding on how to best implement that focus in their service areas and around the world. Education is frequently a critical component of the agenda.

"Each international president chooses areas of focus and also develops a signature program, which typically centers on education," said Owoh.

The program this year is called #CAP--College Admissions Process--which guides high school juniors and seniors through the higher education landscape and helps them decide earlier what they'd like to do, Owoh said.

The primary focus of these programs is to provide mentoring, preparation, and even financial assistance to students who may not know college could be a reality for them.

Stephanie Jackson, a member of the Beta Pi Omega public relations committee, said, "For African-American students, there's still so many gaps in educational attainment, and the wealth gap is still so large and severe. That's why all of these things are so important."

She remembered one young woman in the chapter's ASCENDSM education program, which took high school students on college touts and helped them prepare for higher education. ASCENDSM--Achievement, Self-Awareness, Communication, Engagement, Networking, and Developmental Skills--was the predecessor to the #CAP program. The young woman on Jackson's mind ultimately decided to attend college in Tennessee.

"People can't be what they can't see," Jackson said. "If you don't know anyone going to college, how can you see this as a possibility, especially as a young black woman? Can you imagine what it is going to be like for her family? Her life is changed because somebody took the time to help her prepare for college."

Students in these programs also learn the value of service from members of Beta Pi Omega.

"We're supposed to be raising up not only the next generation of educated children, but also of servant children, to know they need to help others," Owoh said.

This year, Beta Pi Omega awarded $26,000 in scholarships to students during its scholarship program, and more than 500 students have received $300,000 in scholarships from the chapter, since its inception in 1976. The scholarships are generated from The Ivy Foundation of Little Rock, which also funds the group's international service program implementation on the local level.

To provide global impact, the group has participated in the Pillowcase Project, which provides shirts and dresses for children in Africa or Haiti, gathered eyeglasses for the Lions Club, and collected gently used shoes to donate to Soles4Souls. At home, they have partnered with UAMS to provide mammograms and promote awareness of important health screenings in the community. The group has collected school supplies and donated more than 2,000 backpacks to families in central Arkansas. Beta Pi Omega continuously adds partnerships with schools, churches, art galleries, and others who may be serving a need in the community.

Beta Pi Omega has more than a few notable members among its ranks, including the late Raye Montague, credited with the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship and Thelma Mothershed Wair, a member of the Little Rock Nine, who still attends chapter meetings. The group also has a centenarian, Hazel Bullock, who has been a member of the sorority for 79 years. Renowned poet Maya Angelou and lifelong educator Carolyn Blakely are also members of the sorority.

Though Beta Pi Omega has no volunteer requirements, the sisterhood and the satisfaction of providing service to the community keeps members engaged.

"Because we are service-oriented, we are sorority sisters for life and we're friends for life," Owoh said. "It's nothing for us to have three service events in one day, but we also have things we do to strengthen our membership. We also make sure we have events where we can let our hair down and have girl talk."

Across the state, Alpha Kappa Alpha has chapters in Little Rock, Pine Blurt, Helena, Magnolia, Camden, Fayetteville/Bentonville, Jonesboro, Arkadelphia, Marianna, West Memphis and Conway, but Beta Pi Omega focuses primarily on the central Arkansas area.

What distinguishes Beta Pi Omega from other service organizations is its seniority and its reach. When the chapter was chartered more than 80 years ago, it became the first African-American sorority in Arkansas.

"With our chapter being the longest-serving chapter in Arkansas, that's why we have so much reach because we've been doing it for nearly 100 years," Jackson said.

Owoh echoed that sentiment saying the community can count on Beta Pi Omega to provide hands-on support when work is needed.

"One of our strengths is that we're able to mobilize people," she said. "On the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service in 2018 and 2019, we were able to secure over 250 volunteers, including our members as well as members of other organizations. I think community partners can see from us that we not only can bring their members to the table, but they can draw in our members as well, and we can make a bigger impact."

BY MELISSA TUCKER

1908: Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C., becomes the first African-American sorority in the United States

1937: Beta Pi Omega Chapter chartered in Little Rock; the first African-American sorority in Arkansas

1940: Sponsored charter of Gamma Alpha chapter at Philander Smith College, as the first undergraduate chapter in the state of Arkansas

1970: Sponsored Epsilon Phi Chapter at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as the first African-American sorority/fraternity on campus

2003: Established the nonprofit fundraising arm, The Ivy Foundation of Little Rock

2008: Historic Jenkins House becomes Little Rock headquarters for Beta Pi Omega

2009: Established a partnership with Larry Clark, Sr. and Life Skills for Youth for the chapter's long-standing New Directions program

2015: Implemented the local ASCENDSM program through the sorority's international signature educational enrichment program, which prepares high school students for college

2019: Awarded $26,000 in scholarship funds at annual scholarship program

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Author:Tucker, Melissa
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Aug 12, 2019
Words:1154
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