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Community, Creativity, and Compassion: Inside the 2023 Children's Cluster

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Photos by Gavin Lindsay of glindzvisuals

About the Children’s Cluster

Jack and Jill of America Superhero Avatars
Pictured: Noah Kwaku and Julia Alston photographed with Decor Committee Chair & South Charlotte Chapter Mom, Melodie Alston. Photo Credit: Yolanda Lindsay

The Mid-Atlantic Region's Children's Cluster, an annual event that brings children ages 5-12 in the region together for a day of enriching workshops, took place on March 4, 2023, at Charlotte Country Day School located in the South Park area of Charlotte, NC. This year's Children's Cluster was hosted by the South Charlotte Chapter under the direction of the Regional Executive Board.

As soon as attendees arrived at the venue, they were met with a warm welcome from our Jack and Jill superhero avatars. The roles of the avatars were played by Noah Kwaku and Julia Alston, who brought an added sense of excitement and fun to the event. Dressed in eye-catching superhero costumes, the avatars were an instant hit with both children and adults alike, creating a festive and engaging atmosphere from the very start of the event. Their enthusiastic energy set the tone for the rest of the day, making it an unforgettable experience for all who attended.

Regional Director Tarcia N. Flemming giving opening remarks at the 2023 Children's Cluster
Regional Director Tarcia N. Flemming giving opening remarks at the 2023 Children's Cluster

"The Children's Cluster this weekend was a resounding success that left a lasting impression on our young ones and their families,” said Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Tarcia N. Flemming. “With a dynamic mix of educational, cultural, and philanthropic activities, we were able to create an environment that fostered learning, fun, and a sense of community. The beaming smiles, enthusiastic thumbs ups, and countless high fives were a testament to the positive impact the event had on our children. We look forward to continuing to provide opportunities for our young ones to learn, grow, and thrive."

Opening Session: The Prologue

The event began with opening remarks from MC Taylor Dee, an educator and entrepreneur who coaches other multi-passionate educators, creates educational music and books for kids and adults, and provides professional development services for leaders through her creative education agency, Right Now Education. Next, regional and national leadership brought opening remarks including Regional Director Tarcia N. Flemming and National Corresponding Secretary Nichelle Levy. South Charlotte Chapter President Dr. Kimberly Odom welcomed everyone to Children's Cluster and the South Charlotte Chapter Associate Jewels introduced the morning's entertainment, Bright Star Touring Theatre.

RD Tarcia N. Flemming pictured with South Charlotte Chapter Jills Caleigh Rae McFarland and Talia Glover. Photo: Gavin Lindsay

Photos by Gavin Lindsay

Bright Star Touring Theatre, a national touring theater company based in Asheville, NC, with a mission to challenge, engage, and delight audiences around the world. The company has performed for a wide range of schools and communities in locations from Seattle, WA to Moscow, Russia, and is capable of adapting to any size audience, from large theaters to small cafeterias and libraries. Bright Star Touring Theatre has over 70 different shows in rotation, covering a range of topics including classic literature, health and wellness, holidays, STEM, diversity and inclusion, bully prevention, cyber safety, and social-emotional learning.

Bright Star Touring Theatre
Bright Star Touring Theatre. Photo by Gavin Lindsay

Enriching Workshops and Performances

After the performance, children participated in a variety of workshops designed to increase confidence, educate on Black history, provide opportunities for personal development and community service, exposure to arts & cultural activities, and a special guest appearance by African American trailblazers. The workshops were led by professionals in the industry, including authors, former professional football players, and entrepreneurs. The sessions were interactive and engaging, allowing children to learn and have fun at the same time.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the exciting and customized workshops that were specially tailored for children of different age groups.

“The event was filled with fun activities and engaging workshops that helped our children learn and grow,” said Dr. Kimberly Odom, South Charlotte Chapter President. “ It was heartwarming to see families from across the Mid-Atlantic Region come together, build relationships, and celebrate the accomplishments of our children. We had a wonderful time celebrating the growth and achievements of all our young members, including our twelve year old Shining Stars who bridged to the teen group and are now eligible to participate in the Teen Leadership Conference 2024."

Did you know an African American man named Augustus Jackson invented ice cream? South Charlotte Jack and Jill Dad, James Hawkins, taught the 5-6 year olds all about him - and they made ice cream! Pictured here with son, Danon Hawkins.

The 5-6 year olds had an absolute blast with three interactive workshops that included a captivating story hour with author Helen Hope Kimbrough and a cooking class where they learned to make ice cream with the guidance of one of our South Charlotte Jack and Jill Dads, James Hawkins, who played the role of ice cream inventor Augustus Jackson.

Similarly, the 7-8 year olds were treated to an interactive literary workshop with author Kya Johnson and a thrilling superhero racing academy where they conducted a chemistry experiment using household items to power their race cars.

The 9-11 year olds were engaged in workshops that focused on important life skills and athletic drills in What's Your Story, which was led by Tori Gurley, a TV analyst and former NFL player. They also had the chance to explore their inner superhero scientist in the Slimy Science Fun workshop. All the age groups also participated in the Foundation for Hospital Art, a community service project where all the artwork created during the event was generously donated to area hospitals and schools. Overall, the event was a wonderful opportunity for children to learn, grow, and have fun in a safe and nurturing environment.

Former NFL player Tori Gurley and South Charlotte Chapter Moms Kelli Putnam and Shelley Smith, pictured with the 9-11 year old group.

During lunch, the children enjoyed meals by Seasoned Provisions, tunes by DJ WildCard and a 360 photo booth experience by Pose 360 CLT.

Empowering Young Leaders: Shining Stars Bridging Ceremony

Twelve-year-olds transitioning from the Children's Cluster to the teen group participated in a workshop called Telling Our Story, The Regional Teen Officers’ Jack and Jill Journey. Led by the Regional Teen Officers, this interactive workshop empowered the Shining Stars to become young superhero leaders. The RTOs shared their own experiences in Jack and Jill and how the skills and values they have learned have helped them become successful leaders. The workshop also provided opportunities for the Shining Stars to ask questions and share their own thoughts and ideas about leadership.

The second workshop led by author Kimberly Johnson, was called Heroes of History: Learning from the Civil Rights Movement and Finding Your Voice. The Shining Stars learned about the Friendship 9, a group of college students and activists who challenged inequality and unfair laws during the Civil Rights Movement. Through an interactive read-aloud, they discovered the inspiring stories of the heroes who made a difference during this historic time. The workshop also gave them the opportunity to write their own story and share how they could make an impact in their community and the world.

Among the many activities and workshops, the Shining Stars Bridging Ceremony stood out as a special moment for the twelve-year-olds transitioning from the Children's Cluster to the teen group. During the closing session, the Shining Stars were celebrated in a special event called the Shining Stars Bridging Ceremony. This important milestone recognized and prepared them for their transition to the teen group, similar to the Associates' Bridging Ceremony. All Shining Stars celebrated this significant moment in their journey with Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

The Children's Cluster was a wonderful opportunity for the Shining Stars to learn, grow, and connect with their peers in a supportive and empowering environment. The workshops and the Bridging Ceremony demonstrated the organization's commitment to nurturing its members as they transition from one stage to the next, and empowering them to become leaders in their communities and make a positive impact in the world.

The Mothers’ Experience: Unlocking the Power of Now

One of the most highly anticipated sessions was the Mother's Experience. Two sessions were held, and they covered topics ranging from career advancement to puberty and mental health.

The first session, titled "The Power of Now," was led by Dr. Princess M. Cullum, Founder and CEO of You ™ Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Program. Dr. Cullum, an expert in Career Development, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, discussed the challenges women face in advancing their careers and how to take control of one's career advancement. She shared insights on expanding influence and achieving professional and personal goals. The session was interactive, with attendees participating in lively discussions and learning practical tools to help them achieve their career goals.

The second session, titled "Pimples & Puberty: Maintaining While They Are Changing," was equally informative. Led by Dr. Shamieka Dixon, Director of Adolescent Medicine at Atrium Health Levine Children's Center for Gender Health and Teen Health Connection, this session addressed the unique challenges parents face in supporting their children during puberty. Attendees learned about the physical and mental changes that children experience during this time and strategies to support them through this important stage of development.

The Mother's Experience sessions were highly impactful, providing attendees with practical tools and strategies to support their children's growth and development, both personally and professionally. They also provided an opportunity for mothers to connect with one another and share their experiences. Overall, the Mother's Experience was a valuable addition to the 2023 Children's Cluster, and we look forward to hosting similar sessions in the future.

Community Impact and Giving Back

The Children's Cluster event was not only a fun-filled day for families, but it was also an opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the community. Attendees were encouraged to donate to Classroom Central, an organization dedicated to fostering equity in education by providing teachers and students with free resources they need to succeed. Thanks to the generosity of the families in the region, over 1,000 items were donated to this worthy cause. This outpouring of support reflects Jack and Jill of America, Inc.'s commitment to ensuring that all students have access to the tools and resources they need to thrive in the classroom.

"I am proud to say that the Children's Cluster program is not only about nurturing our children's love for learning, but also instilling in them the value of giving back to our community,” said Mid-Atlantic Region Member at Large, Tiffany Spann-Wilder. “This year, our children had the opportunity to support eight local non-profits through the gift of artwork, painting inspiring scenes that will adorn various institutions across the city. Through our donations to Classroom Central, we were also able to provide much-needed supplies, including toiletries, puzzles, board games, and water bottles. I believe that this program is not only beneficial to our children's growth, but also to the betterment of our community as a whole."

South Charlotte Chapter Mom Paula Cook, South Charlotte Foundation Co-Chair Bonika Wilson; South Charlotte Chapter President, Dr. Kimberly Odom; Classroom Central Director of Community Engagement Darden Blow; Regional Director Tarcia N. Flemming; National Corresponding Secretary Nichelle Levy; Regional Treasurer Daralyn Bryan; Regional Secretary Tomisha W. Gladman; Regional Member at Large Tiffany Spann - Wilder

Art for a Good Cause

Foundation for Hospital Art at the Children's Cluster
Photo by: Sarah Elliott-Burton

In addition to the Classroom Central donation, the event supported the Hospital Art project, a worldwide initiative established by the Foundation for Hospital Art in 1984, which aims to bring art to hospitals and healthcare facilities to create a more comforting and positive environment for patients, their families, and medical staff.

The Hospital Art project has already placed over 48,000 pieces of artwork in over 4,500 hospitals in 195 countries. These artworks include paintings, murals, and sculptures, and have been donated by thousands of volunteers worldwide. The foundation believes that the presence of art can provide a healing and calming effect on patients, reduce stress and anxiety, and contribute to a more positive patient experience.

Closing Session: The Epilogue

Taylor Dee providing motivational message. Photo by Gavin Lindsay

The kids also heard a motivational session with Taylor Dee. During the session, Taylor shared her inspiring journey of overcoming obstacles and pursuing her passions. She encouraged the kids to believe in themselves, follow their dreams, and work hard to achieve their goals. Taylor also emphasized the importance of lifelong learning and embracing failure as a necessary step towards success. The kids left the session feeling empowered and motivated to pursue their own passions and make a positive impact in the world.

In addition to the Shining Stars Ceremony being one of the highlights of the day, the children in attendance were treated to a spectacular step show by the Divine Nine, a talented group of Winthrop University students.

We are incredibly grateful for the generous sponsors of The Children's Cluster event. Our Hero sponsors, Gynesonic, Young & Polite Dentistry, The Hall Law Firm, The Hicks-Guinn Law Firm, WCW Firm, Laundry 2U, Murdock Orthodontics, and our Champion sponsors, Tillman Advisors, River Vista Dentistry, Shassity Styles, Hologic, KC Construction, and our Warrior sponsors, HKB Plastic Surgery, Associate Jewels, and our in kind sponsor, Nexsus Search Partners, and our Friend of the Cluster Sponsor, Tanisha Burke of Maylasian Lights, have all demonstrated their commitment to making a positive impact in our community. Thank you for your generous support of The Mid-Atlantic Region Children's Cluster.

The 2024 Children's Cluster will be hosted by the Greater Fredericksburg Chapter in Fredericksburg, VA.


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