Speaking up

Junior League picks president devoted to children with disabilities.

By Jennifer Whytock

Twenty-four years ago Pam Newby’s life completely changed when her young daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.

She was an office manager at an oil company in Oklahoma City, but within several years she had started Special Care, an early education program for children with and without disabilities.

“Some parents at the pre-school my daughter attended thought she might be contagious, and threatened to pull their children from the school if she didn’t leave,” she says. “Special Care came about because of what we were going through with her.”

Though she has a degree in business, Newby says she needed leadership and skills training geared to nonprofit work, so she joined the Junior League in Oklahoma in 1989.

The Junior League taught her fundraising, public speaking and how to chair committees, be a good nonprofit board member and partner with other nonprofits, she says, skills the leagues still teach women today.

Pam Newby

Job: President, Association of Junior Leagues International; founder, Special Care

Born: Denver, 1955

Lives: Oklahoma City

Education: B.A., business administration, Cameron University, Lawton, Okla.

Family: Husband, Dean; children ages 6, 8, 13, 26, 29

Reading: David Sedaris, “Dress your family in corduroy and denim”

After terms as area director, vice president and president-elect, Newby recently was elected to a two-year term as president of the Association of Junior Leagues International in New York City.

In addition to helping the association stay connected with its 294 leagues in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom, she will work to retain the organization’s 171,000 members and help expand the number of members, leagues and countries it serves.

Newby also wants the Junior League, which began in 1901, to be more vocal about the volunteer work that members perform and the leadership training leagues provide.

“We still face people who think we do tea parties and fashion shows,” she says. “We did do those sometimes, but they were fundraising events, and people didn’t know why we were doing things because we never talked about what we were doing in the community.”

Members from the league in Austin, Texas, for example, travel to South America to help dentists fix cleft palates of local citizens, while Nashville members help prostitutes change their lives through skills-training in other professions, she says.

Each local league decides which issues to support, she says.

While her new position and her full-time work with Special Care take up much of her time, Newby tries to read often and hike with her family in the Wichita Mountains.

She and her husband have five children, including her 26-year daughter, now considered cured from leukemia, and two adopted young children.

The six- and eight-year-old, her biological niece and nephew, had been in foster care, were removed from their parents, and needed specialized training and speech therapy that Newby’s program provided.

Special Care provides year-round educational training to children ages six months to six years and after-school and summer program for those ages six to 21.

“We start with babies because many of the parents of children with disabilities are single and need to go to work, because the divorce rate is 85 percent for people whose children are disabled,” she says. “Even when my daughter was diagnosed, I thought, ‘What did I do wrong?’ There’s a lot of guilt and blame.”

Two-thirds of the 135 children in the program have physical, emotional or behavioral needs, and one-third have no special needs.

“Many people ask me why those one-third of parents put their typically-developing child in our program,” she says. “We give individualized education and a lot of parents want their children to be around those with special needs so they can learn to see past differences.”

When Newby was setting up Special Care and before she joined Junior League, volunteers from the local league discovered her program and offered to help, and now, nearly 20 years later as president, she can encourage other members to go find causes to support.

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