By Adam Pack
The local Community Education Outreach Society (CEOS) is just one part of many club organizations like it whose outreach expands to even an international level. All 55 counties in the state have local chapters of the CEOS in cooperation with the WVU Extension Service. As a dedicated civic organization, the CEOS here in Greenbrier County facilitate all manner of community involvement, development, and improvement.
The first CEOS in the state was founded in 1914 as the Farm Women’s Club, and members shared recipes, crop growing techniques, and helped ease the burdens and difficulties of country living. For individuals, schools, churches, and families throughout the tough years of the mid-20th century in the area, Farm Women’s Clubs were places of respite, help, and comfort for many. As far back as the 30s, WVU’s Extension Service has had an integral part of organizing clubs like this and still does to the present day.
Locally, there are not as many factions of the CEOS as there used to be. Multiple branches including the Frankford, Richlands, Blue Sulphur, and Crawley CEOS have disbanded over the years. However, despite facing a number of challenges, there are still a variety of groups serving the region.
According to Janet Johnson, current president of the Organ Cave CEOS Branch, the first CEOS in Greenbrier County was founded in Organ Cave in 1938 and was called the Farm Women’s Club of Organ Cave. A member since 1978, Johnson continues a long line of membership in the CEOS, of which both her mother and her aunt were members. According to Johnson, her mother was a charter member of the club in 1938. She feels that “it adds an element of connection to my family, my heritage.”
President of the Organ Cave branch since 1999, Johnson said that for her the club represents “a great opportunity to learn, engage with the community, and socialize.” As a longtime 4-H member in her youth, Johnson has greatly enjoyed her time in CEOS. “It’s like an adult 4-H, really,” and added that she “highly recommends” it to anyone.
As highlighted by Mary Ellen Raines, president of Tri-City CEOS, the organization also makes serious philanthropic contributions to the area as well.
“We found out that the food bank doesn’t receive very much baby food, and yet they have babies come through, so we donate up to 300 meals worth of baby food every year. Those are also useful for those elderly who can’t eat solid food.”
Raines has always appreciated the personal atmosphere and interesting nature of the CEOS, stating that she joined in 1972 because she “just loved the other women there, and they were so highly skilled with their sewing and needlework. I was really interested and have been ever since.”
A former treasurer and now long time president of the Tri-City club, Raines has enjoyed the many years of service and fellowship the club has offered, and encourages anyone interested to join, noting that a new member was added as recently as the beginning of November. Dues are low, as Raines pointed out, and anyone who cannot afford dues can receive assistance from fellow group members.
Elizabeth Dunlap, meanwhile, doesn’t have roots that run quite as deep as her Organ Cave counterpart, but loves the CEOS and her time there all the time. After growing up locally but moving away, Dunlap spent nearly 40 years away from the area before moving to West Virginia to take care of her sister. When her sister was put into a nursing home, Dunlap began going there to visit her and play bingo, and first met members of the Rupert CEOS.
“After my sister passed away, I was just sitting there at home alone,” she said, and getting involved in CEOS gave her a sense of purpose. She found meaning in “knowing I was helping people and being useful.”
Dunlap mentioned that one of her favorite activities is volunteering at nursing home bingo nights, and sewing hearts for children staying at the hospital. She said that getting out of the house was the main attraction for her joining CEOS, and that “with everybody having spent so much time inside, it’d be great to see people get out and get involved in CEOS.”
For her and many others, it’s become so much more, with her saying “after my sister died, it was a lifesaver.”
Of course, these are just a couple of the wonderful smalltown level CEOSs that exist here in Greenbrier. These CEOS clubs don’t just unite localities, but also help members expand their interactions, experience, and service on a county level.
Another local CEOS president is Patty Gray who oversees the Greenbrier County CEOS. Gray mentioned there were now eight chapters with Rupert being the furthest west and Tranquility Trail being the furthest in the east. She explained the educational benefits of the club, and said they meet once a month to teach members about health and state issues.
Gray also spoke about the aging population of the local CEOS participants. Having been involved with the club since 1974, an impressive 47 years of service, she mentioned that there are members who have already achieved memberships of a decade longer than that. While she doesn’t have the exact figures, she estimates that the average age of their membership is in the 70s.
She stressed that the Community Education Outreach Society is open to all ages, and that many of the longest serving members joined when they were very young themselves.
She adds that choosing to participate in local civic groups like the CEOS is a great option for local youth, and that club participation looks very positive on college or job applications while creating lasting community connections and networks.
However, when all is said and done, giving back is truly the best reward, and CEOS offers locals a great opportunity to do just that.
CEOS continue to reach out to the community by being the facilitator of three scholarships available to West Virginians. Scholarships on offer include the Human Service/Education Scholarship, a scholarship for West Virginian students who are studying fields such as early childhood development, education, social, counseling, etc., as well as the Nursing Scholarship, for those pursuing a nursing degree. Both scholarships are $500 per year, and are awarded to “West Virginia students who have successfully completed 24 credit hours and are enrolled in West Virginia colleges or universities offering the bachelor’s degree in.”
For other requirements, responsibilities and applications, visit extension.wvu.edu/ community-educational-outreach-service or contact WVU Extension Service Family and Community Development at 304-293-2796.
Over the past decade, West Virginia CEOS members have performed more than 5.6 million hours of service for communities in need. Through dedicated volunteerism, continued education and leadership development, CEOS members strengthen individuals, families and communities across West Virginia.
For those interested in joining, contact the Greenbrier County branch of the West Virginia University Extension Service at 304-647-7408, or visit the office at 1046 Maplewood Ave, Lewisburg.