Meet Ms. Sally
It’s 4:30 p.m. and Meadowlark Sally is standing at the doorway to her room in the back of the Southside Club. An orderly line of first-graders forms and waits to enter.
“How are you today?” she asks the first boy in line.
“I’m good, Ms. Sally,” he said, pausing, realizing a more thoughtful answer would be required. “I had a good day at school today. How was your day, Ms. Sally?”
Ms. Sally smiles, thanks him, and repeats the process with each member entering her room.
“I do that because it teaches them social skills, manners and builds vocabulary,” Ms. Sally said settling into a chair after her group dispersed for their interest clubs. “But also, I can look at their faces and tell how they’re feeling that day or if they have something going on. And if they do, once they get in the room, we have a family meeting and we talk about it. I might not be able to change their circumstances, but I want them to know that they are safe and there’s someone who cares and looks out for them.”
Family is important to the woman considered a role model by many at Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond. She is approaching her 34th anniversary at the Club - June 8 to be exact. She has seen it all from a boys-only Central Club on Robinson Street to her current location with the boys and girls of Southside. She’s seen thousands of young people come through the Clubs. She’s watched members grow into adults, many of whom are now bringing their own children to the Clubs, or who are now her colleagues.
“Ms. Sally is the epitome of a Club staff member. She’s dedicated, committed and true to herself and her calling. She has a wealth of knowledge that we all can benefit from,” said Jade Tabb, alumni coordinator at the Club.
When Jade joined the staff in 2008, she shadowed Ms. Sally and began seeking her advice when planning activities.
“I was in awe with how creative, yet meaningful, her activities were,” Jade said. “I can definitely say her passion for education was one of the things that made our relationship so important. As a mother, I’m using the things Ms. Sally has taught me to help teach my son.”
Shortly before the summer of 1985 began, Meadowlark Sally was called into the principal’s office at the former J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School. Dr. Mildred Bruce, her supervisor, knew the early childhood educator was looking for part-time work in the summer.
“The Boys Club has an opening for an arts & crafts counselor.”
“Dr. Bruce, I don’t know anything about arts & crafts.”
“Meadowlark, go fill out the application.”
Ms. Sally headed to the Club, filled out an application, interviewed and was hired on the spot.
“Little did I know that Dr. Bruce was associated with someone on the Board and wanted to make sure I got a job,” Ms. Sally recalled, still appreciative of the connection. During that summer, she split her time each week between Camp Littlehawk and the Summer Discovery program at the Central Club. What was supposed to last only one season, turned into a part-time job that has spanned 34 years.
Ms. Sally became the first female counselor hired by the Boys Club, running arts & crafts before leading “Power Hour” in which members decompress after school.
“I always say that’s where I got my training. To work in a male-dominated environment is very different. And to be the only female, you must earn your space, you must earn your respect,” she said. “I always say that those Club members made me the woman I am today.”
The respect for Ms. Sally has never diminished, neither have the life lessons she’s taught.
“If you start something, you’re going to finish it. That’s what Ms. Sally always told us, always finish what you start. I’ll never forget it,” said Marvin Green, the Club’s current director of operations, who first met Ms. Sally in art class in 1989.
“This is my responsibility to provide all the tools they need so they can compete when they get out into the world.”
Ms. Sally always has connected with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond mission and vision of creating a safe environment for young people to thrive. As a youth development professional, she recognized how the Club had the unique ability to bring aspects of character development, community service, social and emotional learning, and communication skills under one roof.
“To prepare our members to be productive in society, they must have the tools and the foundation,” said Ms. Sally, who continues to equip members each day. “I’m responsible; it’s not just a job. This is my responsibility to provide all the tools they need so they can compete when they get out into the world.”
Throughout her career, Ms. Sally has been recognized for her contributions. In 2015, she presented with the Maytag Dependable Leader Award by Boys & Girls Clubs of America with a $20,000 scholarship created in her name. The following year, Ms. Sally was presented with a distinguished service award during Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond’s 60th Anniversary Celebration.
“There’s a lot of history, a lot of connections and a lot of family. I consider this my family,” she said. “I think that is why I continue to do what I do. I feel there is more for me to do.”
There are many ways to describe the legacy of Ms. Sally. A matriarch. A guide. A protector. A warm and caring educator. Someone who always wants better for young people.
“What I want is for each one of them to find their path and, as they travel, I want them to think positive, act positive, and feel positive,” she said. “Life is full of choices, and they’re inevitable. When you make a choice, there are consequences. They may be positive or, on the flipside, they may be negative. I want them to be secure enough in themselves that they are willing to accept the consequences. And when you’re willing, you can move mountains.”
Ms. Sally once came across a quote that has always stuck with her and acts as her guiding principle: “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.”
“What kind of mark do you want to leave?” she said, waiting for a thoughtful answer.