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A celebration of ‘Family Fun’

Event: SCV/AV Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Posted: April 28, 2010 9:07 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Left to right, Chapter President Kathy Shank, Palmer and Foundation and event chairwoman Ebony Macon Johnson at the Family Fun Night.

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They say families who play together, stay together. And those families who got caught up in the action had some real fun at the second annual Family Fun Night Fundraiser at Scooter’s Jungle in Valencia for the Santa Clarita Valley/Antelope Valley Chapter of Jack and Jill of America.

Throughout the evening, nearly 100 kids happily bounced on the gigantic inflatable jungle gym at the indoor tropical-themed event facility, while older siblings hung out or played video games at the Mad Dog’s Gamers Paradise truck.

And if one were to peek through the netting, you could spy plenty of cool dads also bouncing around on inflatable slides or helping their tots swing on the zip lines.

Amid the cacophony, the moms stood calmly by, chatting and catching up with each other while selling pizza, cookies and other snacks to the active group.

Adding to the festivities, actress and singer Keke Palmer, the star of Nickelodeon’s “True Jackson V.P.,” Disney’s “Jump In” and the acclaimed film, “Akeelah and the Bee,” visited to sign autographs, give hugs and pose for pictures.

Palmer’s luminous smile and enthusiastic interactions with the kids became the highlight of the evening and made it a night to remember.  

Billy Johnson Jr., husband of Foundation chairwoman Ebony Macon Johnson, received the credit for bringing Palmer to the fundraiser.

“The kids all know her from Nickelodeon,” he smiled. “It’s so nice to see her with the kids.”

After visiting with Palmer, the younger kids eagerly lined up to choose their favorite custom creations made by balloon artist Ron Thompson of Ron’s Balloons, including intricate, twisty designs of the Easter bunny, crowns, flowers, tigers, dogs and even a monkey on a bicycle.

Sheree Spencer, editor for the new SCV/AV chapter said one-third of the net proceeds of the night’s fundraiser will benefit Jack and Jill of America Foundation, one-third will be contributed to Jack and Jill Rebuilds America Project, one-tenth will support the Santa Clarita Valley/Antelope Valley chapter’s fundraising efforts, and the remainder will be donated to Penny Lane Centers, an organization that provides assistance to foster kids.

“We had about 200 people last year, and it appears there are more people here this year,” Spencer said. “Even with a threat of rain, it was really well attended.”

Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill of America, Inc., is a nonprofit family organization with a membership base of more then 9,500 families.
Founded by Marion Turner Stubbs Thomas in 1938 in Philadelphia, Penn., it is the oldest and largest African-American family organization in the United States, the goal of which is to nurture future leaders by strengthening children ages 2-19 through monthly activities focused on leadership training, community service, legislative advocacy and philanthropic giving.

“To us as mothers, it has become a means of furthering an inherent and natural desire,” Stubbs Thomas wrote. “To bestow upon our children all the opportunities possible for a normal and graceful approach to a beautiful adulthood.”

Today, Jack and Jill of America, Inc. is dedicated to the purpose of developing children and fostering lifelong friendships with families in the community and chapters throughout the nation.

SCV/AV chapter
The SCV/AV chapter of Jack and Jill was dedicated and chartered in a ceremony at the Hyatt Valencia in September 2007, and is looking forward to its third full year.

“We are a group of 35 moms, and each month we focus on a theme or topic to teach them financial literacy, health — or participate in cultural and educational events,” said Kathy Shank, president of the SCV/AV chapter. “We take them to plays, music and concerts, expose them cultural events, teach them etiquette and encourage community service.”

About community
From September to May, the Jack and Jill chapters sponsor age-appropriate activities for kids in five age groups ranging from ages 2 to 19 — based on each month’s theme.
Additionally, Shank said the SCV/AV chapter would sponsor a teen conference in June for kids under 13, in addition to a regular summer camp.

In June, teens from the SCV/AV and San Fernando Valley chapters joined more than 350 high school students from Alaska, Arizona, Nevada and Washington for the Jack and Jill of America’s Far West Regional Teen Conference and  Day of Service in San Francisco.
“They planted trees and mulched three parks,” Shank said. “They created a sense of ownership with their community involvement, and when kids are more involved, they are less likely to hurt or deface their community.”

Executive board
But Jack and Jill chapters are as much about empowering the mothers as well as their children.

“Each month, we meet at each other’s homes to cut down on costs,” Shank said. “At the executive board meetings, we get closer, get to know each other and get more comfortable with ideas. At the mother’s meetings every other month, they will plan out the year based on what theme and activities they will work on each month.”

The national organization also empowers women to gain valuable professional skills.

“The women learn how to conduct meetings, to learn to manage a group to become secretaries, treasurers, editors and group leaders,” Shank said.

Additionally, Shank and vice president Diiehma Thompson will attend the national convention in Chicago this summer.

The mothers’ group meets once every two months to discuss the monthly agenda and plan for the year. Shank said while the chapter is still young, they are hoping to grow through awareness in the community.

Membership in Jack and Jill is not automatic. According to Shank, families must meet a strict set of criteria and guidelines and help out with activities within the community.

“We are bringing on 11 more members that we voted in for next year,” Shank said. “There are 35 charter members of the SCV/Antelope Valley chapter extending up to Palmdale and Lancaster.

Shank said the SCV/AV chapter works with Penny Lane, a transitional program for foster kids and just donated more than 700 books for foster children.

Kathryn Cunningham, president of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., who sponsored the new SCV/AV chapter, attended the Scooter’s Jungle event in support and said she was pleased to see the chapter taking off brilliantly.

She said the SFV chapter recently launched its first scholarship drive to assist African-American students of the San Fernando Valley and surrounding communities. Donations can be made online at

Lifelong friendships
Proving that the Jack and Jill clubs are truly a national organization and one that builds lifelong friendships, Jasmine Gillespie, 12, and her sister, Jaida, 7, traveled with their parents from Chester County, Penn. to spend spring break visiting with the friends they made at the San Fernando Valley chapter when they lived in the SFV.

The sisters were waiting on balloon animals and between the two they had a crown, a tiger and a bunny. But the real dilemma for Jasmine was how to transport her balloon crown and tiger on the airplane home.

But for their mom, Angela, her priority was supporting their home chapter even from across the country while maintaining life-long friendships.

“When it comes to fundraisers, we go where we need to go,” Angela Gillespie said.

For more information on the SCV/AV chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. visit or e-mail



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