By Kim West
Blue and gold balloons dotted the Beasley Center Saturday night and the more than 260 tickets sold filled the room with local dignitaries, educators, award recipients and youth leaders during the Limestone County NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet.
The 2012 semi-formal dinner, which helps fund youth and community initiatives, raised more than $9,000 from silent auction proceeds and ticket sales before expenses.
“This is one of our biggest fundraisers,” said Ollie Parham, a committee chair for the banquet. “We were trying to raise $10,000 minus expenses after raising about $5,000 in 2011.
“We also hosted our youth council and Step 4 program, and I’m really excited because this was the most kids we’ve had in attendance. The purpose of doing all of this is to strengthen the community.”
The crowd included Athens State President Robert Glenn, Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks, City Councilman Jimmy Gill, Limestone County Youth Council President Rylan Pendleton, Youth Council Vice President Kacie Dentleegrand, NAACP Alabama State Conference President Benard Simelton and Limestone County NAACP President Wilbert Woodruff.
Glenn pointed out the similarities in the longevity and roles of Athens State and the NAACP.
“The NAACP and Athens State University are both very much alike because the NAACP is the oldest living organization in the nation, while Athens State, which is looking forward to its bicentennial, is in its 199th year and is the oldest institution of higher learning in Alabama,” Glenn said. “They are both a catalyst of change — Athens State is a catalyst of our students, and the NAACP is a catalyst of our community.”
Diane Steele, first vice president of the Limestone County NAACP, presented the issue initiative agenda, which includes an oratorical contest for local high school juniors, substance and abuse recovery assistance and encouraging students to read through the Step 4 Book Club.
“We need the guidance and direction of an all-powerful God and the help of this wonderful community,” said Steele. “If you think their struggles are over, think again.”
Kevin Myles, southeast regional director for the NAACP, gave a keynote address that warned of the dangers of underestimating children and stressed the importance of teaching them to believe in their dreams.
“We have to teach them to dream and to have a goal,” said Myles, who is also a member of Mensa, an organization for people who score in the 98th percentile or higher on a standardized IQ test. “We've got to be in the dream business again and teach kids to believe in their potential … if we do not pick up this mantle and tell this story, we cannot expect anyone else to do it.”
Jennifer Matthews, founder and CEO of MTM Corporation and the Unsung Hero Scholarship Fund, and Sarrell Dental Center were presented the “Leaving a Legacy Award.”
MTM has awarded more than 100 scholarships to Limestone County students based on Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Sarrell Dental, led by CEO Jeffrey Parker and a staff of more than 210 employees, has provided low-cost dental services for more than 330,000 children in seven years.
Delisa Simpson, who was elected the 2008-09 Teacher of the Year at Owens Elementary, was selected as an NAACP Teacher of the Year. Simpson, a graduate of Athens State and Alabama A&M, has taught kindergarten, first grade and second grade for six years at Owens and was described by the Limestone NAACP as “an energetic, innovative educator who puts children first each day.”
Other award recipients were New Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church for Church of the Year: the Family Resource Center and The News Courier for Corporate (Non-Government) Organizations of the Year; the Limestone County Sheriff’s Department for Corporate (Government) Organization of the Year; and Crite’s BBQ for Minority Business of the Year.
Entertainment was provided by the “Crowns” musical cast, and the event was catered by Tasty Delights.