Pontiac fraternity chapter offers holiday help

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Pontiac – — Early one morning in October, Jacqueline Weatherspoon and her family watched smoke and flames claim all of their belongings.

An electrical fire ravaged their two-story home, leaving the single mother and five children with little more than the clothes they wore. The Red Cross offered aid and area nonprofit Community Housing Network helped them relocate to another residence, but the Weatherspoons still needed an extra boost to face the holiday.

That’s when Omicron Alpha Alpha members stepped up. Learning about the family’s plight, the Pontiac chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. soon “adopted” them and mobilized to provide food at Thanksgiving as well as household necessities. Then, the week before Christmas, the group presented a bounty of gifts in colorful covering.

“They made it a lot easier,” Weatherspoon said. “I’m just grateful that there are people out here who are willing to help people who are in my situation. … Knowing that someone really could step up and step in, not even knowing you — it’s a blessing.”

Amid the holiday help, the fraternity chapter — charted in 1980 aiming to make a difference in Pontiac — is working to expand its reach.

On Christmas Eve, members joined with local youth development program Positive Male Role Models and other organizations to help restaurant owner Nick Mansour feed more than 1,000 people in Pontiac.

And in the New Year, the chapter plans to explore more community-based projects and partnerships, President Idris Rashid said this week. “We just want the community to know that we are here to serve them.”

Amid the holiday help, the Omicron Alpha Alpha Pontiac — charted in 1980 aiming to make a difference in Pontiac — is working to expand its reach.

Omicron Alpha Alpha is part of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. — considered the first international fraternal organization founded on the campus of an historically black college.

The Pontiac chapter now includes about 40 graduate members in various fields, including automotive executives and entrepreneurs, Rashid said. Guided by the national fraternity’s cardinal principles, manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift, they work to help city residents through community programs, scholarship awards and volunteer activities.

Their work includes reaching out to those in need, Rashid said. “Whenever there’s anything major that impacts a family, if we can help them, we always maintain an open-door policy. What that means is: if we know or hear of anything, we’ll get together and see what we can do for them. We don’t have a closed-door policy.”

That applied to the Weatherspoons, whose story was featured on broadcast reports.

For Thanksgiving, Omicron Alpha Alpha collected a basket of goods — turkey, macaroni and sides — as well as toiletries and other items the family needed while starting over, Jacqueline Weatherspoon said.

The goodwill carried over to Christmas, for which the mother received gift cards and cash. Last Saturday, her three sons and two daughters happily unwrapped toys and clothing.

Even in 2016, fraternity members plan to keep helping and hope to mentor Weatherspoon’s oldest son through a restarting initiative, Rashid said. “We want to make sure that the family knows that someone still cares and wants to help them.”

Besides leaving her family homeless, the blaze this fall forced Weatherspoon to leave college classes. The family still needs assistance moving forward, but the fraternity’s holiday support “has helped a lot,” she said. “I just thank God everyday for them stepping in and taking us and sharing with us, because they didn’t have to do it.”

In that spirit, fraternity members spent about three hours Thursday helping feed an estimated 1,300 at Nick’s Corner on Auburn as well as delivering meals to those unable to attend, said Derek Wynns, a past chapter president and co-founder of Positive Male Role Models.

“One of the reasons it’s important: it not only teaches young people to be mindful of the community and, when they make it as they grow into their careers, to always come and give back,” he said. "As far as our fraternity brothers, we’re all in different aspects as far as careers. But we’re all mindful of taking care of Pontiac and the people of Pontiac — just looking out for those who are in need."