Nearing the century mark, the Community Educational Outreach Service remains relevant in Ohio County, with five clubs fulfilling a mission that is summed up in the organization's name.
"We're trying to get out to the public what CEOS stands for," said Betty Jane Myers, acting president of the Ohio County CEOS Council.
Lewis Honaker, a West Virginia University extension agent, said the group's forerunner started in 1914 in Ohio County. The organization began as the Farm Women's Club, added Jeanne Carter, a longtime CEOS member and past county president. The first Farm Women's Club was organized in Valley Grove on Dec. 14, 1914.
Caroline Honaker, 2 1/2-year-old daughter of Megan and Lewis Honaker of Wheeling, gets acaquinted with a “boo-boo bear” created by the Community Educational Outreach Service. A quilt made by CEOS members is shown in the background.
Photo by Linda Comins
The group's name was changed to Home Demonsration Club in 1954 and to Extension Homemakers in 1968. Since 1999, the entity has been known as Community Educational Outreach Service. Nearly 4,000 members participate statewide.
As the name implies, individual clubs, as well as the county council and the state organization, strive to provide members and the general public with educational opportunities and materials on a wide range of topics. Community involvement, civic engagement and public service remain central to the group's endeavors.
The clubs' community projects have evolved with the times, as members seek to meet changing needs and to focus attention on emerging issues. For example, club members in Ohio County are making mats for the homeless and are crafting "boo-boo bears" for children who have been traumatized. Recycling and environmental issues are an important focus for the clubs. The group also is involved in breast cancer awareness.
"We do reach out to the community and beyond," Myers remarked.
The mats project fulfills two aims: providing a dry, comfortable surface where people who are homeless can sit or sleep, and helping the environment by fashioning the mats from clean, discarded plastic grocery bags.
Carter said the idea for homeless mats came from the Canonsburg, Pa., area, where people "have donated over 1,000 mats." She added, "It takes at least 800 plastic grocery bags to make one mat. That's keeping them (the bags) out of the landfill."
Club members and non-members, including children, are involved in mat making. Carter explained that the grocery bags are cut into strips and then are laced or woven together to form a mat. "They're indestructible," she remarked.
Once finished, "the mat is rolled up and put in a plastic garbage bag and given to the Homeless Coalition," Carter said. "The garbage bag keeps their mat dry, and they can roll it up in the garbage bag in the daytime."
Based on the Ohio County clubs' example, the state CEOS organization has taken on mat making as a project, Carter said, adding, "John Moses (who is involved in outreach to the area's homeless population) is so grateful for anything we can do."
Mats and other recyclables will be part of the CEOS' educational exhibit at the Ohio County Country Fair in Oglebay Park Friday through Sunday, Oct. 5-7, Myers said.
Meanwhile, the homemade "boo-boo bears" are given to pediatricians, emergency medical personnel and law enforcement officers for distribution to children who have undergone "some traumatic experience," Myers said.
The cloth bears are "very simple to make," Myers said. A one-piece pattern is used to craft a bear shape from colorful material; after the bear is stitched and stuffed, a marker is used to indicate eyes, nose and mouth. A ribbon is tied around the neck, with a note affixed to the ribbon. The note reads, "This boo-boo bear was made especially for you."
Other activities for Ohio County CEOS in 2011-12 have included providing toiletry kits to the Salvation Army, assisting the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, making blankets for kidney dialysis patients, collecting dental supplies for children, donating pop can tabs and blankets to Ronald McDonald House in Morgantown, filling Appalachian Outreach's Christmas boxes, assisting Boatsie's Boxes, sending holiday cards to military personnel, baking cookies for 4-H camp, providing craft supplies for Energy Express and giving books to the public library.
The organization strives to help members continue their education, gain leadership skills and inspire participation in community and outreach projects.
Its mission statement spells out the goals: "The mission of the West Virginia Community Educational Outreach Service is to strengthen individuals and families through continuing education, leadership development and community involvement for the betterment of all."
Regarding the CEOS' structure, Myers said clubs hold monthly meetings and two county meetings every year (April and December). The December gathering has a special theme and may include entertainment. "Last year, it was an international Christmas party," she said. "This year, it's a country Christmas."
The theme for this year's spring meeting was "Planting the Seeds of CEOS," with guest speakers John Moses and Joe Roxby discussing, respectively, "Planting Seeds in Our Community" and "Planting Seeds of Education." Sandy Duvall from the regional Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program also spoke to the group. Workshops were conducted on making mats for the homeless and crafting fleece blankets.
Education is an integral part of the monthly meetings. "Each club has a lesson every month that comes from the West Virginia University Extension Service," Myers said. "The lessons are on different things we need to know about."
The extension service provides a lesson sheet and a leader's guide, Carter said. "Each person gets a sheet to take home."
Officials said the lessons are designed to address family education, heritage preservation, global issues, environmental education, self-enrichment and health.
Lessons for 2012 include these topics: "Artisan Crafts of the World," "Time for Tea," "Mapping Out Your Family Tree," "Gardening With Limited Space and Mobility," "Ramps: A Spring Tonic," "Would You Like to be Happier?" "Connecting With Others Using Five Love Languages," "Living Your Bucket List," "Cyber Bullying: What Is It and What Can We Do About It?" and "Cranberry Thanksgiving."
The organization is open to both men and women. "We do have some men. The Clearview club has three or four men," Honaker said. Carter added, "Other clubs on the state level have men."
Anyone interested in joining the CEOS may call Honaker at 304-234-3673 or contact him by email at Lewis.Honaker@mail.wvu.edu.
New members can chose "which club is closer to them," Honaker said. In addition, he said, "We have members at large."
The meeting time also may be a consideration for a prospective member. In Ohio County, he said, "Four clubs have daytime meetings and one meets in the evening."
Clubs that meet during daytime hours are Clearview, Dallas, Green Acres and Valley Grove. The Washington Acres club holds evening sessions.
The CEOS organization also sends a "county belle" to the annual West Virginia Folk Festival in Glenville, Myers said. Judy Nichols is the Ohio County belle this year.
Members also learn about other cultures by interacting with international students who receive scholarships to attend WVU. "Every other year, when an international student is at WVU, every county is given an opportunity to host the international student," Carter said.
"We also support the 4-H. That's very, very important," Myers said.
Looking ahead, the Ohio County CEOS will be the hosts for the 2013 area meeting to be held at Wheeling Park High School on May 4. The theme for the day will be "Hands That Shaped Wheeling," Myers said. The event, which is expected to draw 200 people, also will serve as a showcase for the high school's performing arts and horticultural programs.