Associated Charities turns 100
Did you make a difference in someone's life today?
The volunteers at the Blackwell Associated Charities did – just as they have for over 36,525 days.
On February 16, 2019, the Associated Charities – one of the first non-profit organizations in Oklahoma – turned 100 years old.
In the last century, the local food bank has helped provide food, clothing, and other essential items to roughly 420,000 Blackwell households in need, according to the organization.
Since it was first established, the charity has been housed in different locations. It has also had different board members. And it has been called to action at different times. But its mission has always remained the same: to help impoverished local families get the help they need.
SEEING A NEED
In late 1918, Blackwell was a fledgling community hardly a day over 25 years old. The city of Blackwell was about to buy its first motorized fire engine. Local centenarian Sylvia Dawe was born. World War 1 was over.
For some, it was a happy time. But for some, it was a time of anguish.
After the war, some local families were torn apart. According to an undated document written by Myra Bleuler, who documented in detail the history of the Associated Charities, post-war desertion of families was “our greatest social problem.”
“Our greatest social problem [sic] at this time are the deserted families. [Either] the father or the mother has gone and left the family. Many fathers with two or three children have left the mother and children since the war. [T]he mother is unable to receive [Aid to Dependent Children] on account of the children do have a father and he is responsible for their support,” Bleuler wrote.
Abandonment, however, was not the only problem. Federal healthcare programs like Medicare had not yet been created, leaving some elderly community members unable to care for themselves, Bleuler added. And children were becoming increasingly delinquent because they lacked stable home lives.
At that time, the Mothers Club provided some care for needy families. But more needed to be done, Bleuler wrote.
“In one of our church papers, I found this: 'It is better to build a fence at the top of the cliff than to build a hospital at the bottom.' The fence that should protect boys and girls from evil influences has given way and children are tumbling over the cliff. … The over-crowded jails, the state homes for boys and girls are the hospitals that are receiving them.
“The fence … has broken down.”
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
On Sunday, February 16, 1919, Blackwell Mayor Kirby organized a community meeting at the local high school. The goal was to create an organization that could provide assistance to families in need.
One hundred people attended the meeting that afternoon, Bleuler wrote. That day, the Associated Charities was born, making it the second non-profit organization registered in the state of Oklahoma. The Red Cross was the first.
Of the 100 people at the meeting, 56 reportedly became charter members of the organization. L.H. Thompson was elected president and secretary, and J.W Morse was elected treasurer. A board of directors consisting of 21 people was established, with each member serving either a one-, two-, or three-year term.
At that time, a mission statement was drafted. It read: “To assist those who were residents of Blackwell who are not able to provide for themselves, and to render such assistance as may be necessary to those who may be transients and stranded within the bounds of the city.”
To carry that work out, the Associated Charities held its first and only organized fundraiser. In 1920, Mayor James Tait helped raise approximately $5,050 to support the organization. According to Bleuler, there was never another one.
“Since that time, there has not been any organized drive made for money, but the work has been carried on through gifts of friends, lodges, clubs, and churches,” she wrote.
THROUGH THE YEARS
Blackwell has called on the Associated Charities during times of crisis over the last century. The Great Depression was one.
The Great Depression was the largest economic downturn in the history of the world. It began in 1929 and ended 10 years later. The nation's unemployment rate was sometimes above 20 percent, leaving families without food and shelter. Government agencies across the country stepped up to help those in need, but the government alone could not reach everyone.
In Kay County, the board of commissioners set aside money to help families affected by the economic downturn. While the exact amount of money appropriated is unknown, the Blackwell area received 38 percent of the funds appropriated for “the maintenance of the poor.” The Associated Charities helped get that money to the families who needed it.
“We do some detective work,” Bleuler wrote.
Using their sleuthing abilities, volunteers took reports of families who were unemployed and determined whether the family needed clothing, food, or help caring for infant children. Volunteers would then refer that family to the state agency that could best provide assistance. Young mothers were referred to the office of Aid for Dependent Children; “handicapped” individuals were rehabilitated through the State Board of Education.
While the organization provided assistance as-needed, its main mission was to help people get back on their feet.
“Determining the eligibility of persons receiving help … is part of the work of the office, but only a small part, as our big job is to help people help themselves,” Bleuler wrote. “[F]aith in self must be restored, and each problem must be met and understood. Sometimes, relief is the service needed. “[T]hen again, it is just a friendly interest and being able to listen to [people's] problems.”
THE NEXT 100 YEARS
Karen Ware, the current director of the Associated Charities, said she is proud to know that the organization has had a big impact on Blackwell.
“We feel blessed to be a part of this community. This work has gone on for a long time. Some board members, like Sylvia Dawe, who recently turned 100, have been there since the time this began,” she said. “It's neat to know that we have helped.”
While the organization has worked in Blackwell for 100 years, it will need more support in the future to keep those efforts alive.
“I just think it's amazing that we have a community that has allowed us to stay open,” she said. “But we need the community to continue helping. Times are getting harder.”
In recent years, some of the groups that used to help the organization collect food have fizzled out. In 2017, the last remaining Boy Scouts earned the coveted Eagle Scout rank, marking the end of the troop. For decades, the Scouts had done a bi-annual door-to-door food drive, which supplied a majority of the Associated Charities' canned goods. Volunteers with the local post office who helped collect food have retired in recent years, leaving the organization with less manpower.
While some groups have stepped in to fill the voids, volunteers who are not clients of the charity are needed. Clothing and food are, too.
If donations and volunteers increase, the Associated Charities will continue to keep the fence at the top of the cliff strong for years to come.
“We have some volunteers, but we need more,” Ware said. “We depend on donations to stay alive. As long as that continues, we will be here.”
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