Club boasts 50 years of community service

By Lynn R. Parks

In the first year of its existence, the Soroptimist International of Seaford bought five record players for Seaford Elementary School. Fifty years later, it has paid off a $10,000 donation to the Seaford Mission, has bought several buses for the Nanticoke Senior Center, has given thousands of dollars to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital and has contributed $30,000 to the Western Sussex Boys and Girls Club. Its 51 members run the Curiosity Shop, a second-hand store that grosses $128,000 a year. They support Associated Charities, fire companies, high school bands, Hospice, reading programs, libraries, literacy programs and women's shelters and hand out college scholarships to Western Sussex students. "We are not a club for everyone," said Dolores Slatcher, Seaford, club president. "We are not about our own interests and we are not a social organization. We are about other people and about the community's interests. There is a level of commitment you don't often see in local organizations." The club consists of 19 committees, each of which is active. "If you join, we will put you on a committee," Slatcher, 51, said. "We will ask you to help." Even so, said Jane Drace, former president and a member since 1987, there is an element of fun in club activities. "We do so many hands-on activities, it makes it really special and brings us all together," said Drace, 54. "We are supportive of each other and we develop friendships." And, added 15-year member Ruth Sneller, 61, especially at this time of year, club members enjoy what they are doing. "We just took presents to the residents of LifeCare at Lofland Park," a Seaford nursing home, she said. "We visited with them all. And we also wrapped a lot of toys for Associated Charities, new toys that were donated by club members. That was a lot of fun." The club was formed in 1950 by a group of area business women. According to a club history compiled by Sneller, the women were interested in organizing a club that would provide more than social activities. After becoming familiar with Soroptimist International, an organization dedicated to promoting women's issues around the world, they approached the Dover branch for sponsorship. Membership was by invitation only and was open to women who owned or managed businesses. The 16 charter members were Nellie Allen, Betty Berry, Gwen Dunn, Virginia Foulk, Neta Hall, Amelia Hardesty, Dorothy Hull, Ethel Johnson, Elizabeth Lank, Anna May Marvel, Margaret Minor, Grace Morgan, Helen Parrott, Doris Barnes Slaysman, Catherine Tull and Elizabeth Tull. Membership is still by invitation. But its requirements have expanded to include women who are involved in any activities, even volunteering, outside the home. While men are also welcome, the Seaford's club has only women in it.

According to Sneller, club members initially depended on typical fund-raising activities such as bake sales and sponsored programs. In 1961, the Curiosity Shop was opened. And it was an immediate hit. "The community gave and gave to the shop," Sneller said. Net profits of about $40,000 a year enable to club to participate in many projects, Slatcher added. In addition to raising money, the shop is of benefit to the community in three ways, Drace said: It is a place where used items can be recycled, it employs six members of the community and it provides an opportunity for people to buy clothing and other items at reduced prices. "It also is a resource for burned-out families," added Slatcher. "And for needy families identified through Associated Charities." Clothing from the Curiosity Shop often finds its way to people who receive services from the Seaford Mission and to people who are temporarily living in the Rotary House, a shelter sponsored by the Nanticoke Rotary Club. The Curiosity Shop is located in the old Lomar building on High Street, where it has 800 square feet of space. By the end of next year, members hope that it will have moved to a building at Soroptimist Park, a 7-acre park on the east side of town that is co-owned by the city and the club. The city recently purchased a building that sits at the front of the park. Cost of the building and the surrounding property was $250,000. The former bar is being renovated to provide 5,000 square feet for the Curiosity Shop. Charles Allen, son of original member Nellie Allen and president of Allen Hatchery, has agreed to pay half of the cost of the renovations. The new second-hand store will be called the Nellie G. Allen Curiosity Shop at Soroptimist Park. Eventually, Slatcher said, the club hopes to build onto the building, providing space for a concession stand and rest rooms for the park. "We are devoted to the park," she said. "It is the last public area in Seaford that is along Williams Pond." She added that over 3,000 people, including campers, use the park each year. Club members clean up the park twice a year and paid half of the cost of the pavilion that is there (the city paid the other half). Plans include construction of a second pavilion, a bandstand, a recreation area for toddlers and walking trails. Again, the city and the club would split the cost. With all of this going on, club members are very busy, Slatcher said. But Sneller added that she does not know of a time -starting with its very first project: straightening out the city's house numbering system - when club members were not busy. "We see so much that we can do, and somehow it all gets done," she said. "As long as there are projects in the Seaford area that need to be done, we will have something to do," added Slatcher.

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