An insight into the civic clubs — part 1: Altrusa
By Christina Stock
Today, we start a new series introducing our local clubs and organizations. These nonprofit organizations are a huge part of the U.S. and our area.
This is where the heart of the American dream shines through. James Truslow Adams, in his book “The Epic of America,” which was written in 1931, stated that the American dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
The clubs and organizations represent how citizen movements worked for the betterment of communities without political or monetary gain. The members are involved in the community, volunteering at events, helping out with scholarships and when they see a need, they find a way to help.
The nonprofit organization Altrusa International was founded in Nashville, Tennessee in 1917, originally as Altrusa Institute. During that time, a record number of women were going to work during World War I, and there was a need for women’s civic organizations. Alfred Durham began organizing clubs throughout Nashville, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; and Dayton, Ohio; before he moved on to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he met Mamie L. Bass.
Bass had served as the superintendent of the women’s division of the United States Employment Services, and was a partner in her brother’s architecture firm. While she admired Durham’s Institute, Bass felt that Altrusa could serve a higher purpose. In June 1918, when Altrusa held its first convention in Indianapolis, Bass’ vision became reality. The Altrusa Institute became a classified service organization for women.
In 1935, Altrusa became international when the first club in Mexico was organized. Since that first step over U.S. borders, Altrusa and the Altrusa International Foundation — dedicated to improving economic well-being and quality of life through a commitment to community services and literacy — expanded and flourished throughout the world, including into the former Soviet Union when the communist regime ended.
Altrusa International of Roswell (AIR) celebrates its 72nd anniversary this year. First meetings were held in Artesia. Today, the organization belongs to District 10, which includes parts of New Mexico, such as Roswell, Clovis, Portales, Ruidoso, several in Colorado, one in Utah and one in Wyoming, according to one of its oldest members, Joletha Alford.
Asking how her experiences were when she joined, Alford said, “When I joined in 1980, there were a few women that had been in the original group. The one I know for sure without looking was Jane Clark. My book says that she was self-employed in investments. Afterward, she was self-employed.
“Originally, as I remember when I first started, it was founded to help women that wanted to re-enter the workplace, get a degree or training, things like that,” Alford said. “We have a nursing scholarship as one of our designated scholarships, because of Mrs. Poole. She was one of the people that we helped with the scholarship. She got a nursing degree and in her will, she donated the money for us to continue that, specifically for nursing.”
According to AIR, the Barbara Harris Poole Endowment Nursing Scholarship Fund has been benefiting nurses for more than 25 years. Poole was the first recipient of the scholarship grant to the St. Mary’s Hospital School of Practical Nursing from the Altrusa International Founders Fund Vocational Aid Project. At the same time that her oldest son began college, Poole began her nurse’s training. A single mother with five children to raise, Poole entered a new professional phase in her life with the help of this scholarship. Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the people of New Mexico have reaped the rewards of this investment.
Poole’s years of service included working first at St. Mary’s Hospital in Roswell, then at the Portales Hospital and, returning to Roswell, at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center before becoming a nurse with the New Mexico Public Health Department. She worked in crafting better services, advocated for the needs of populations others had condemned, such as “crippled” children, as it was worded. Poole’s nursing legacy became the foundation for the scholarship fund that had helped her as a single mother. The AIR foundation awards it annually.
Asked how Alford joined AIR, she said, “I was in my first professional job out of college, and I knew nothing about any of the organizations. One of my coworkers who was in Altrusa invited me and then sponsored me. She was a really good friend. We worked together at the Job Corps when they first opened up. In the mid-’80s, she moved to Phoenix (Arizona) and we stayed in touch. I go to Arizona in the winter, and we still do things together. There are lifelong friendships developed through the organization, even through the state lines.”
Asked what the reason was that Alford joined, she said, “It was to meet professional women; they were organized; they were dedicated; they were friendly. They taught me all kinds of different things, just by association or when you need help on how to run a business. You watched women who were really good at doing meetings; women that could make speeches; women that knew all different areas of the business community. They are just great. We have two men now, though I still think of it as a women’s club.
“I’ve been in long enough and I was out and back — it feels really unusual that I am one of the members that joined the longest time ago. Because when I started, I was a young professional, so it feels funny for me. What I love now is to see the young people and what they are doing. I would have never met most of the young ladies if I weren’t in Altrusa.”
According to AIR’s president, Kate Groesbeck, the main focus of the organization with its 39 members remains literacy. The Literacy Committee purchased recently a supply cabinet and two bookshelves for the Boys and Girls Club. They also donated 200 books of all types for the children, from educational books to help with homework and research, dictionaries, to chapter books and books for entertainment. The committee is also aware that one of the biggest challenges is that there are many adults that cannot read, write or do basic math. In September, the Literacy Committee delivered 200 books to the local community kitchen and the same amount to BCA Medical Associates. “We don’t just leave it at that, we do a lot of other things,” Groesbeck said.
“My biggest thing is, when I lived in Lubbock, I wasn’t able to do community-type projects. When I came here, I was so grateful I was introduced by friends to Altrusa. I liked the women I got to meet. There were all sorts of different aspects of people, different backgrounds, different visions for the organization, but I also just love helping the community. Sometimes that’s not with my time, but maybe by raising funds. We can help our community in all kinds of different ways. It’s not always just the same way. I enjoy that,” Groesbeck said.
“That’s what’s so great,” Alford said. “There is a whole sleuth of people in all walks of life. Sometimes you can’t be in the club as much as you want to be in, but still come when you can. Everybody has been there and understands the different walks of life. I feel everybody is just so supportive. It’s great to have that sense of camaraderie from everyone.”
Alford said that next to the scholarship and literacy projects, members of AIR join in vocational services, fundraisers, committees, communications or archives.
“The community service is the big one,” Alford said. “It probably is what keeps us (as members), the ladies and the community service. One of the first things I participated in was the Easter baskets for the Assurance Home and that — I recently found out — was the first year after the Assurance Home started. We’ve been doing that every year since then.
“Some of the things we’ve done, we change. There has been a great big garage sale they tried one time and we said, ‘Never again.’ So it changes,” Alford said and laughed.
According to Alford, one of the changes happened recently because of a new member, a retired broker. “We know there is a lack of financial literacy and so she found an educational program we can put together and you can present to young people and different groups. We got it started and now we have a new committee for financial literacy. That’s what makes it so dynamic. The women see a need and then figure out how we can help in that area,” Alford said.
“That’s one of her pet projects, something that is very passionate for her,” Groesbeck said. “Helping people understand their finances and how to organize things — basics. They don’t teach that anymore. It exploded, it went great. It has gotten so big that we have our own committee that just focuses on it and setting it up. They do it with the schools, with the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, with Roswell Refuge — they go anywhere where there is a need for this type of education.”
Other projects of AIR is a book exchange at the Roswell Mall that the literacy committee is in charge of. According to Groesbeck, another project is giving Christmas stockings for children incarcerated in the juvenile detention center. “Two years ago, one of the officers of the juvenile detention center spoke to the group — he was so heartfelt on how much that helped those kids. He was very passionate about that and the kids. He was grateful,” Groesbeck said.
“I personally don’t know who brought that to us and it doesn’t matter, but the community service committee is planning on doing that again. That’s a need, those children don’t get anything for Christmas,” Alford said.
AIR has announced this year that they have a new scholarship for New Mexico Military Institute students. The first recipient was NMMI cadet, Christine Wentland.
The next event AIR is actively supporting is Make a Difference Day, Oct. 26. The members are going to help clean up the Spring River Trail.
AIR meets twice a month at the Joe H. Madrid Educational Building (Tobosa), 110A E. Summit St. The Altrusa program meeting is held the second Wednesday of every month, beginning at noon. Guest speakers present information about community programs and businesses at the meeting. The Altrusa business meeting is held the fourth Monday of every month, beginning at 5:30 p.m. — Committee reports and club business are discussed during this meeting. For more information about AIR, visit districtten.altrusa.org/roswell or contact Jennifer Rawdon at 575-624-8035.
New members learn about the Altrusa Key:
The name “Altrusa” was originally coined from “Altruism” and “USA.”
Are you a board member or officer of a nonprofit civic club or organization? Contact us to tell the story of your organization. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 575-622-7710, ext. 309.