Chatwell Club encourages support of cultural center

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

WOODVILLE &045; Founded in 1980, the Chatwell Club and its sister organization, the Chatwellettes, have grown to become a vital social and charitable network in Wilkinson County.

On Sunday, several members of the non-profit group gathered at Oak Hill First Zion Baptist Church in the Percy Creek community, sharing in the worship service and encouraging support for the African-American Cultural Center, an ongoing museum project in Woodville.

The center will be located in the Branch Banking House on the courthouse square.

Email newsletter signup

A $272,000 state grant will be used to restore the 1819 structure, but the grant requires $65,000 in matching funds.

Last month, the Chatwell Club assumed a key leadership role in the project, donating $1,000 to the matching fund.

&uot;I think it is incumbent upon African-Americans to help raise this money,&uot; club President Thomas Tolliver said.

But Tolliver stresses the importance of reaching out to the entire community.

&uot;We want to be inclusive. We associate ourselves with other civic clubs, schools and churches,&uot; he said.

In addition to corporate donations, the group raises money from ticket sales at its annual Christmas Ball and a new Mardi Gras event.

&uot;We had our first Mardi Gras celebration this year, and it was attended by about 300 guests,&uot; said Tolliver, one of three remaining founders, including Woodville residents Donald Ray Carter Sr. and Mickell Smith Sr.

&uot;There were 12 founders, mostly teachers, who had no social life. We wanted to have a place to organize activities and have fun. The word ‘chat’ means to get together and have conversation, and we did that well, thus the name Chatwell,&uot; Tolliver said.

But soon the group began to broaden its purpose, sponsoring children at basketball camps, providing hunter safety courses and visiting residents at area nursing homes each Christmas.

Members also help needy families with housing improvements, and recently pledged their assistance to the Families First Resource Center and the Tech Prep Summer Youth Program, both sponsored by the Wilkinson County School District.

&uot;This summer, we will begin mentoring and tutoring young people. Each brother will be assigned two or three kids to spend time with,&uot; Tolliver said.

Chatwellette founders Ruby Stirgus, Myrtis Tolliver and Winnie P. Henyard were among 10 other members of the women’s wing of the organization who attended Sunday’s church service.

The Chatwellettes are busy planning fundraisers, such as a formal ball in August.

Stirgus hopes one day to see the club provide scholarships for needy students.

&uot;There are so many kids who would like to go to college, but their families can’t afford it.

It would be great to see one or two go each year, or at least get started,&uot; she said.

Tolliver is proud of the group’s contributions to the quality of life in Wilkinson County. &uot;I am honored to have a vision realized. There were needs in the community, and these people got together and did something about it.&uot;