Giving Back: St. Charles Women’s Club celebrates half century of giving

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, December 16, 2015

LULING — For 50 years the St. Charles Women’s Club has lived up to its motto “Making a Difference.”

Sandy Matthews and Patricia Zirkle help display items for the Autumn Auction.

Sandy Matthews and Patricia Zirkle help display items for the Autumn Auction.

The non-profit civic and social organization is driven by the desire to help the community. One of the very first things the organization did was create the ARC of St. Charles.

“In 1970 we did a major project,” Rita Carlson said. “The project was to start a program for special needs students because there was nothing for them other than public school during the school year. There wasn’t anything for them before school age and there wasn’t anything for them after they finished school. At that time, you didn’t start school until first grade, so it was basically for ages 6 to 18 you went to public school if you were a special needs kid.”

Carlson, who first became a member in 1969, was one of the first special education teachers on the West Bank. When she stopped teaching and joined the St. Charles Women’s Club, members told her the organization needed a community project.

“I told them there was nothing for the special needs people, and they thought it was a great project,” Carlson said. “They said ‘let’s start a program for them.’ We checked into it a little bit more and we decided rather than us administering the program, that we needed to start the ARC and that would be an ongoing program.”

Since St. Charles Women’s Club creation in 1966, the number of members has grown, allowing more good work to be done in the community.

“The club was founded by women on the West Bank,” current club president Judy Wilcheck said. “They were looking for a way to give back to the community and make new friends. Back when it started, there were about 20 ladies, and it grew to where we are almost 200 members today.”

Wilcheck said the club has grown to both sides of the river.

“A lot of what we do is community related,” she said “Our civics committee every month tries to collect things that will help community organizations. We give scholarships to six to eight kids, it depends on how much money we’ve raised. We give them to high school seniors in Destrehan, Hahnville or any high school student attending a private school that is living in St. Charles Parish is eligible to apply.”

Some of the money is raised through the organizations’ two biggest fundraisers — Autumn Auction and Tea Cup Auction.

The Autumn Auction is in November, and the Tea Cup Auction takes place in March.

Money raised at the events helps the scholarships and civic grants. Between 15 and 20 organizations apply for the civic grants each year.

To receive a grant, an applying organization tells the St. Charles Women’s Club what they will do with the money, and the club’s committee meets to decide how much they can give.

“Every penny we raise goes back into the community,” Wilcheck said. “Right now, we raise between $20,000 and $23,000 a year, which we think is a nice amount of money. Over the 50 years, we’ve raised almost a million dollars.”

Money isn’t the only thing members give back to the community; they also collect cans and non-perishable foods at their monthly meetings for different local groups.

Club members will hold their Annual Christmas Luncheon at 10 a.m. Thursday at Cedar Grove Tchoupitoulas Plantation in Waggaman. Members and guests will enjoy food, music and surprises. According to the president, a special lapel pin was made for the anniversary, and each member will receive one.

“I’m very proud to be the president this year, I think it’s a great year,” Wilcheck said. “I think we’ve had great participation and I’m pleased. It makes me feel good to be a part of this group.”