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Pilot Club of Covington turns 50

In 1958, the Explorer 1 satellite was launched, Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army, the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants for the NFL Championship, and the Pilot Club of Covington was founded.

In the 50 years since its formation, the club has left a community service footprint on Covington and Newton County that has had a positive impact on scores of citizens, from schoolchildren to the elderly.

The local club recently held a 50th anniversary celebration at the Standridge Banquet Center in Social Circle, where more than five dozen folks braved a snowy January Saturday to commemorate the achievements of the organization, which has membership of about 35.

"We have one remaining charter member, Francis Allen, who now lives in Brunswick and was unable to attend due to the weather," said club member Janis Greer. "We were also very honored to have Pilot International President Judy Breaud visiting from Dallas, Texas. It was an amazing event - we also have people from as far away as Statesboro and Elberton in attendance."

Based in Macon, Pilot International is a service organization dedicated to helping people with brain-related disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injuries and autism. The local club is very involved in these issues, providing support for the Newton County Special Needs Preschool Program (which can be found in all 12 of the county's elementary schools) and offering guidance for young students through the BrainMinders program, a puppet show that entertains and educates with safety tips.

There are more than 450 Pilot Clubs around with world, with some 400 in the United States and 53 in Japan.

Greer, who has been a Pilot Club member since 1989, said the club has been a Partner in Education with Palmer-Stone Elementary School for more than two decades, adding that the club "does anything it can do" to enhance the learning experience at the Oxford-based school.

"We provide helmets for the school's Most Improved Students, who receive a bicycle, and we also take the fifth graders on a safety field trip every year to Lake Jackson, where Georgia Power Company representatives talk to the kids about everything from the use and danger of electricity to water safety," said Greer, whose late father, Bob Greer, served as sports editor at the Covington News for decades.

In addition to sponsoring Anchor Clubs at both Newton and Alcovy high schools, the Pilot Club of Covington provides $1,000 in scholarships each year to a student at each school. Club treasurer Ann Brooks said in most years, a student from Newton and a student from Alcovy receives a $500 scholarship, but in 2007, just one student (from Alcovy) applied for, and received, a $1,000 scholarship.

An Oxford resident, Brooks joined the club in 1959 and is its longest-standing active member at 49 years. She said she's witnessed many changes over the years, including seeing men become part of Pilot International, although the Covington club is still strictly female.

"One of the biggest changes I've noticed is our present members are so willing and devoted to our community projects," she said. "A lot of our club members are retired, so they have more time to devote to the club. We've got good participation - instead of having one person try to do everything, we have a lot of folks doing the majority of the work."

She added that the club has sponsored the Palmer-Stone field trip to Jackson Lake since 1996 and said that through the years the club has donated approximately $40,000 for Newton County Special Needs Preschool Program for educational materials, furniture and other special equipment.

"(Newton County Special Needs Preschool) needs a lot of things, from special chairs to tools to improve hand-eye coordination," said Greer, also an Oxford resident. "It's a blessing to us to do whatever we can for them. It's a great thing to tie in with Pilot International's goals and directives."

As it begins its second 50 years of service, Greer said the Pilot Club of Covington has big plans for the remainder of 2008.

"We're going to do child safety-seat checks in conjunction with local law enforcement, probably in the fall, and we're going to be very active with BrainMinders," she said. "We'll also raise money for the scholarships and be active sponsors of the Anchor Clubs at the two high schools. It should be a very busy year."

Both Greer and Brooks are thankful for their participation in Pilot International and look forward to many years of continued public service.

"Pilot has been a real blessing to me," said Greer, who added that many club members had an active role in caring for her mother Auline, who suffered from Alzheimer's before her death in 2003. "The Pilot ladies have been wonderful - we're very supportive and close-knit. The relationships we've formed will always be special to me."

"We've been a service to the city and the county in many special ways," added Brooks. "It's been wonderful to get to know all these ladies I otherwise wouldn't have known. It's been a joy and a privilege to have been a part of Pilot Club for so long."

Current Pilot Club of Covington officers include: Stephanie Scarborough, president; Linda Wade, president-elect; Terry Ziemer, vice president; Theresa Shields, recording secretary; Mary Barnes, corresponding secretary; Ann Brooks, treasurer; Jessica Morris, director; Dean Willard, director; and Anne Wheeler, director.

For more information on the Pilot Club of Covington, call President Stephanie Scarborough at 678-625-9788. For more information on Pilot International, visit www.pilotinternational.org.