The other children sitting on the carpet in Diana Holley's first-grade classroom at Gilmor Elementary School on Friday wiggled and squirmed and laughed and whispered. But Briana Diggs stayed still.
Her chin rested in the palm of her hands, eyes turned toward the Alpha Kappa Alpha volunteer as she read a story to the children. To Briana, she was the lead character in the book "Boys Will Be Boys: Briana's Neighborhood."
Reading to children, allowing them to see themselves in the stories, and modeling behavior of an engaged adult was the objective for Johnnie Colisha` Searcy, one of 1,000 sorority sisters in Baltimore for the weekend to perform more than a dozen service projects throughout the city.
"We believe in global leadership," said Searcy, an education consultant from Silver Spring. "We are a service organization — that's our primary purpose."
The sorority, made up mainly of black, college-educated women, was founded in 1908 at Howard University. More than 260,000 members belong to nearly 1,000 chapters worldwide.
For its 105th anniversary and annual Founders' Day celebration, organizers said the sorority chose Baltimore because of its historical significance in African-American history, including being the birthplace of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is also a member of the sorority.
"I am very excited that my sorors from around the country will be in Baltimore to celebrate our Founders' Day," the mayor said. "One thing that is consistent with my sorority is a commitment to service.
"We're using this time to talk about health care reform. We're talking about human trafficking. We're assisting at My Sister's Place. This is a very service-focused meeting."
Adrienne Williams-McKinney, who lives in Columbia, said that as a Randallstown native she is excited to see the impact the sorority's service will have on the community.
"We are trying to make a marked change and we want to make sure it's a positive one," said Williams-McKinney, a Howard County teacher.
Felipe O. Jackson, Gilmor's principal, said the more children see adults — other than those in their family and their teachers — who care about them, the more confidence they have growing up. About 375 children attend Gilmor, which has made significant academic gains under Jackson's leadership.
"It gives them more motivation to do exactly what the adults are doing," Jackson said. He also said the reading time gave the school's teachers a nice "time out."
In addition to Gilmor Elementary, volunteers read to children at eight other city schools. They visited the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge on West Lexington Street, serving breakfast to patients and caretakers, and organizing the library and storage closet.
The sorority members also prepared food and helped set up the dining room at Our Daily Bread, sorted items at the Maryland Food Bank, helped out at My Sister's Place Women's Center and arranged school supplies and clothing that will be donated to various organizations. The group also hosted a forum on human trafficking.
Additional projects and panel discussions are scheduled for Saturday.
"The agencies we are offering our love, support, financial assistance and resources to perform a heroic job in addressing the complex challenges that face those they serve," the organization's international president, Carolyn House Stewart, said in a statement. "We are inspired by their work and their example. These expressions of support represent our humble way of thanking them for their commitment and dedication."
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