Current officers of Continental Societies, Greater Miami Chapter: Front row, Mattie J. Williams, second vice president; Vassie K. Green, president; Wylamerle Marshall, charter member. Back row, Mary Palmer, historian; Jewell Thomas-Walker, parliamentarian; Eleanor Saunders, sergeant-at arms; Betty Alexander, public relations officer; Brenda Alford, recording secretary; Gail Brown, treasurer; Cashie McCray, corresponding secretary; Gail Meeks, financial secretary; and Betty Howard, chaplain. Not pictured: Doris Granberry, first vice president.


By Dorothy Jenkins Fields
Special to The Miami Herald
March 21, 2018 07:02 PM
Updated March 23, 2018 01:49 PM
There are many community organizations whose members perform actions that benefit people other than themselves. One example, the Greater Miami chapter of Continental Societies, has served Miami-Dade County for three decades.

Dedicated to the socio-economic and cultural welfare of underprivileged children and youth, the Continental Societies was organized in 1956 and incorporated nationally in 1972 as a public service organization.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields


The following year, Earlene Puryear Dotson, then living in Atlanta with her family, became a charter member of that city’s chapter. Two- and-a-half years later when her husband, Al, accepted a promotion at a retail store in Hialeah, the family moved to Miami. When the Dotsons arrived, Vashti Armbrister had already relocated to Miami from Albany, Georgia. During the 1970s and 1980s, she promoted African-American culture, civil rights, the rights of teenage mothers, and the rights of government workers in South Florida. The mother of two, activism took her on a trip to Chicago where she was introduced to the Continental Societies.

With a mutual interest in the organization, Vashti Armbrister and Earlene Puryear Dotson organized a Miami chapter.

Following the organization’s mission, “to create environments within the community to empower children to have access to quality and appropriate opportunities to reach their optimal potential,” they recruited like-minded Christian women to join them in developing a plan to positively impact the lives of local children and youth.

In 1988, under the sponsorship of the Atlanta chapter, Greater Miami joined the national organization. The group has grown from 13 members to 38. According to the current president, Vassie K. Green, “our membership consists of women with families and varied occupations — and we make time to be dedicated volunteers.”

In addition to caring for their families and careers, they use their talents, time and resources to carry out service programs in support of initiatives designed to facilitate the national Five Point Programmatic Thrust: Health, Education, Employment, Recreation (HEER), plus Arts & Humanities. Projects are financed through membership dues and donations, fundraisers and occasional grants.

 
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Continental Societies, Greater Miami Chapter co-organizer and founding president Earlene Puryear Dotson; 2011 scholarship winner Dominique Mortimore and Continental Tanisha Laidler.
Travis Walden Photography
 

Over time, featured programs included the 5K Walk/Run For Asthma at Zoo Miami; a shoe drive collection of gently worn shoes helped support micro enterprise programs in Haiti, Ghana, Nicaragua and other countries; an in-depth discussion of the movie “For Colored Girls,” supported, motivated and provided non-judgmental opportunities for girls to be heard, express their feelings and feel safe; a three-year Butterfly Garden project at Frank C. Martin Elementary School; and a longtime annual Christmas project with Chapman Partnership for the Homeless to provide pajamas, a pajama party with a story, movie and treats at the Homestead Homeless Assistance Center.

A signature program, Real Men Read, the annual African-American Read-in-Chain, was created by member Gwendolyn Dickinson in 2010. This annual event, held at Avocado and Cutler Ridge elementary schools, invites husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and men of various ethnicities to participate. Representing vocations including the ministry, law enforcement and public safety, the men eat breakfast then visit classes, to read aloud.

In schools where male presence in classrooms is rare, this annual activity gives children the opportunity to see that these men care enough to volunteer their time.

The Miami chapter is also known for providing camp sponsorships, college scholarships, assisting college-bound youth with attaining clothing and books, as well as young adult workforce readiness and employment seminars.

To continue their community service and celebrate their organization’s longevity, a special event is planned titled, “An Evening of Pearl Elegance — Celebrating 30 years of Serving Children.” It will be held 7 p.m. Saturday, April 7, at the InterContinental At Doral, 2505 NW 87th Ave.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Rudy Crew, a former Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent. Tickets are $125 each and available at www.greatermiamicontinentals.org.

Reflecting on the past and preparing for the future, the chapter’s recording secretary, Brenda Alford said: “Our organization has served thousands of children for decades. We invite the public to join us in celebrating our successes and support our ongoing programs.”

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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