Sheryl Threadgill: The Woman Behind BAMA Kids
Despite adverse weather conditions, on Saturday, April 15, the BAMA Kids program, which stands for “BetterActivities Make All-around Kids,” held an arts and crafts cultural excursion for the residents of Wilcox County. People of all ages came out to support the organization geared toward cultivating the minds of the children of central Alabama, as they usually do when BAMA Kids hosts an event.
Though possible thunderstorms threatened to spoil the event, one woman lead others as she managed to weather the storm and combat the adversities, just as she has done for decades. Sheryl Threadgill, executive director of BAMA Kids, spent the past 30 years developing the program.
Located at a refurbished utility building on Highway 221, the Bama Kids program provides the children of Wilcox County, ages 4-13, with academic resources and aid in reading comprehension, grammar, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related coursework.
The children are also encouraged to explore other interests through BAMA Kids by participating in the many events they hold to bolster cultural appreciation within the community. Such events include the art excursion, an annual Kwanzaa celebration, and their Black History Extravaganza, which welcomes back former dancers involved in the program to perform for the current members.
Threadgill revealed that a community misfortune fueled her desire to initiate the BAMA Kids program. “There was an incident where a young man was killed. A store owner shot him,” she said. “The community then got together and said, ‘We need to provide some activities for our youth, keep them out of trouble.’ And that’s what we did. The youth are our responsibility. We can’t just turn our backs on them. And knowing that we didn't have a lot of resources here, a population like Wilcox County, where young people really need them. We, the community, must provide the resources.”
Though originating from a place of heartbreak, the BAMA Kids program has since been a shelter for and support to thousands of Wilcox County youth, ranging from elementary to high school students, and is an equally rewarding experience for both the children and staff.
An alumna of Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee, Threadgill began working for the Department of Human Resources during her senior year in 1974. After graduating college, getting married and relocating with her military husband overseas, a tragedy occurred, signaling a turn of events.
“My mother passed away in 1977. And I came back. I was only 24 years old, and I had three younger brothers. So, I came back to help my dad with my brothers and went back to work at the Department of Human Resources,” Threadgill said. “And it was just destiny because I was contracted out to a W.K. Kellogg-funded project in Wilcox County administered out of Auburn University at Montgomery."
At AUM, Threadgill held the title of community resource developer. The job started with her supporting in-home elderly patients to avoid moving them into nursing homes. However, she and her coworkers soon transitioned into helping underprivileged families and working with the children.
Once the Kellogg project ended, Threadgill was asked to take on another job role within the Department of Human Resources. “When the Kellogg project was over, I was asked to be the resource development and quality assurance coordinator. Part of my job responsibilities, then, was to develop activities for the children in the care of DHR, so it was a perfect fit.”
Soon after, she started the BAMA Kids program while maintaining her position with the Department of Human Resources.
Threadgill retired in 2005 to focus on the BAMA Kids program and continues to dedicate her life to its growth. She explained how BAMA Kids is a perfect fit, noting, “It adds a different dimension to my life though I don’t usually have a lot of time for myself. That's one downfall because I’m always working on grant proposals, working on reports.”
She added, “However, I love the hands-on experience, you know? I like going to the center. I like reading to the children. I like doing life skills with the kids. Even though we have people in place to do those kinds of things, I just love doing that. I have always loved working with children and working in my church with children.”
Every aspect of her upbringing prepared her for this calling. “Both of my parents were very involved in the community. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and my mother was a home economics teacher. Both of them were very involved with young people. My mother had beauty pageants. She taught a lot about self-esteem, self-awareness, and inner beauty. And my father was always trying to get someone into college,” Threadgill recalled. “I ran into somebody the other day and they said, ‘I know you. When you were a little girl, your dad helped me get a job.’”
Today, what Threadgill finds most gratifying is when former members express the positive impact that the program had on their lives.
“You never know whose lives you touch. I saw a young man one day at lunch, and he said, ‘I remember you looking after me and my family.’ You just don't know what lives you touch. That keeps me motivated when I run into adults who talk about the influence that BAMA Kids had on their lives,” Threadgill said.
“We see so much tragedy in this world, especially around us and in the lives of the youth. I just want to see young people be able to thrive.”