CARY — In 1968, a group of volunteers got together and formed a kindergarten program to help prepare students for school.
Bessie Baker, Jeanette Evans, Nancy McNitt and Becky Swanson were among them. Forty-five years later, they’re still making a difference in Cary.
Now in their 70s and 80s, the four women volunteer with Dorcas Ministries, a Cary charity that provides help to needy families and operates a thrift shop.
The Wake County Board of Commissioners recognized the women this month for their volunteer service.
The group originally formed as Christian Community in Action, and the kindergarten program welcomed black and white children during a time when schools were still trying to figure out how to be desegregated.
Through that program, volunteers saw there was plenty of need in western Wake County.
“There were people in my community who really needed clothes, sometimes needed food,” said Baker, 79, who lived in the historically black Shiloh community in Morrisville.
She drove children, including her own young daughter, to and from the kindergarten program.
Evans’ daughter nominated the women for the county award and dubbed them Cary’s “Golden Girls.”
But for these women, it’s always been about helping their community.
“I just love to do this kind of work,” said Evans, 83, who served as the manager of the Dorcas thrift shop for years and now runs the cash register there one day a week. “Anything I can do to help someone else.”
McNitt, 75, volunteers as a counselor, connecting local families to services they need.
“As a Christian, it’s a place I can practice my faith,” she said. “It just seems a match for me, to this day.”
The women have been part of Dorcas Ministries’ growth over the years. The thrift shop has moved seven times since it opened in 1972, outgrowing each location. In October 2011, the group moved to a larger space off of High House Road.
The kindergarten classes closed years ago, when the public school system started offering its own program. But Dorcas still helps some families pay for day care, and it also helps 4- and 5-year-olds get into preschool programs.
Swanson said she is most proud that the program has adapted over the years to meet the area’s changing needs.
“It took many, many volunteers from many churches to run this,” she said.
Now, instead of offering families one-time help with food or utility bills, McNitt said, the program forms lasting relationships.
Volunteers keep Dorcas Ministries going strong, said Executive Director Howard Manning. Without them, he said, “We’d have to close the doors.”
The group has about 320 volunteers, and about 30 churches take part in the program, Manning said.
The four women may not spend as much time as they used to at Dorcas Ministries. Years and life have had a way of slowing things down.
But once a week or so, each of them drives to the organization’s headquarters, where they price items for the thrift shop and talk to people who are struggling to make ends meet.
“I think all four of us ... feel we represent many people,” McNitt said. “There are still people from ’68 who volunteer here.”
Swanson echoed that sentiment. “We represent a wonderful, devoted group of volunteers.”
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