Willie Mae Matthews Christie has a genuine soft spot for the children of Norwood, LA, the small town where she was raised. Until Christie stepped in to change things, there were no activities in the town for children to participate in, not even a Sunday school program at the local church. Christie became a one-woman crusader for programs that would benefit the children of her hometown, most of whom are at-risk children living at or below the poverty level. Although Christie moved away from the town several times during her life, she always maintained that she would return to help young people as best she could.
In March 1996, Christie’s husband retired for the second time and the couple returned home to Norwood. Since that time, Christie has been relentless in her pursuit to improve the way of life for children in the town. Due to Norwood’s distinction as the only remaining village in all of Louisiana that has no sales tax, there are few funds to provide service for community youth. Within the community of approximately 1,000 people, a large number of which are children under the age of 18, there were few, if any, positive recreation outlets in the area.
Christie recognized the need for the children to be engaged in constructive activities, which led her to establish a Sunday school program. The church allowed her to start the Sunday school but was unable to provide any funding to purchase materials. Old materials were obtained from other churches and copies were made so that each child would have his or her own work material. Although enrollment was high, with more than 35 children attending, Christie soon found that most of the children required instruction in the most basic reading tasks.
Next, Christie saw the need to address the growing problems within the community such as drugs, teen pregnancies and poverty levels. To accomplish this, she organized a group of community members to form a nonprofit organization called Volunteer Initiative Serving the Interest of Norwood (VISION). The organization was formed in April 1997 and soon obtained 501(c) (3) status. VISION received a $10,000 seed grant from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation in September 1997 for the establishment of additional programs. Volunteers assist with existing programs and a walking track and expansion of the current building are projected for the future.
In addition, Christie solicited the State board of Education to establish an after-school tutorial program. Christie, unselfishly, sacrificed her own funds to remodel a building she owned, making four classrooms, a bathroom, central air and heat, to meet the requirements of the State Fire Marshall. The final expense was more than $10,000. Currently, there are 40 students enrolled in the program with three tutors and Christie serving as program coordinator. From October 1997 to present, there have been marked improvements in the grades of the participating students, some raising their grades from “F’s” to “A’s”.
Willie Mae Christie is making a concerted effort to break the cycle of sub-par education, drugs and crime that are affecting Norwood’s children. She plans to continue implementing ideas for activities that will keep local children off the streets and engaged in constructive activities.