At 100 years old, retired teacher and former Sunday school teacher Etha Wiggins has had plenty of time to become passionate about helping young people, and she believes that it is exactly what God called her to do.
"I just love children. I love working with them and teaching them. I give God the credit," Wiggins said. "He just called me to be with the kids."
Wiggins is a member of the Curve Optimist Club, the motto of which is "bringing out the best in kids." She says, "We do different things for them. We teach them positive thinking, good behavior, and academic achievement."
Wiggins is also the club chair for the Junior Optimist Octagon International (JOOI) Club. This organization, according to Wiggins, is "kids helping kids."
"They do several projects. They work on the Childhood Cancer Campaign; that is, they collect aluminum tabs and save them for the Ronald McDonald House. They do a JOOI for reading program. We gather books and pass them out to children. We also do the Souper Bowl. They collect food for the food bank."
The Junior Optimists, said Wiggins, holds the clue to diminishing crime and violence.
"I'm working with (this) group to diminish crime and violence. They have a clue to diminish crime and violence, and none of you adults would believe it! They are sharing it with the public, but nobody seems to believe it. Nobody believes the clue that we use."
Wiggins said the clue is love. She is confident that she knows why people don't believe in the clue.
"(They) are working on so many different plans and strategies and things like that," she said. "When you fight a criminal, he's going to fight back...so...love. ...God is love. Love can diminish crime and evil."
Wiggins shared that she was able to become the club chair of the JOOI Club through her involvement in the Curve Optimist Club.
"I organize different JOOI Clubs. We have enrolled seven, but right now, we have only three that are active. They are the Metropolitan Club, Cummings Elementary School Club and the Sharpe Elementary School Club."
Wiggins' main activity right now is working with young people.
"I am not doing too much now, except working with the children. ...I'm 100 years old. I belong to Metropolitan Baptist Church and I've had different offices and positions of work in the Metropolitan Church. I worked with the missionary society (which) they used to call 'The Missioners,' and I served as director of Christian Education."
With another reference to JOOI Club, Wiggins said, "JOOI Clubs are working, gangs are out. JOOI clubs are good alternatives for gangs."
Listening to Wiggins, it's clear that she has advice for people who work with young people and that she is willing to share it freely.
"Children want to belong to something," she said. "The Junior Optimists can kind of help them (gang members) out. ...Get friendly with them ... and try to win them over."
(TSD intern Brittney Gathen is a student at the University of Memphis.)