By Thonnia Lee
Dorothy Maye Gaithers, a former social and civil service professional and 1944 Tuskegee alumna, became the first recipient of the Helping Hands and Heart award because of her decades of support to Tuskegee’s social work students.
The College of Arts and Science Department of Social Work presented the award during the National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. Gaithers has supported service to abused and neglected children as a child welfare professional. The 101-year-old has been a faithful donor for decades and is dedicated to ensuring student retention and success.
“Rarely can anyone say a donor is 101 years old, much less that the donor has donated for decades to the University,” said Dr. April Jones, Social Work Department Chair. “The Department has a rare gift; this is one of many stories of how Mother Tuskegee alumni and donors support the future legacy of the University and future minority social workers.”
Gaithers’ road to success is impressive: her high school academic success earned her a scholarship to Tuskegee Institute. As a civil servant for the County of Los Angeles and later for the State of California, Gaithers excelled as a social worker, deputy probation officer, psychiatric social worker, social service consultant, licensing program analyst, and program supervisor. She was among the first to be honored with the State of California Legendary Service Award. After retiring from the state service, Gaithers was a manager for Crystal Stairs, a nonprofit child advocacy corporation. In 2001, she accepted the position of social service coordinator for Second Baptist Church. In that capacity, she served faithfully with the Seniors’ Ministry until 2010. Gaithers’ professional career in social service spanned 43 years until her retirement in 1987.
“This work is truly a passion of my heart,” she said. “I feel so blessed and grateful to experience the joy of giving to these young scholars during this season of my life.”
Gaithers is thrilled to be the recipient of the award that mimics the motto of co-founder Booker T. Washington, “Education is not what a person is able to hold in his head, so much as it is …. skill of hand and strength of mind and heart; and we help you in these ways,” Dr. Jones said.
The Dorothy Gaithers Scholars Foundation has raised and awarded nearly $20,000 since 2013. The gifts from Gaithers have continued to lend students a helping hand while making the dream of graduation attainable.
“When students are in need, Mrs. Gaithers is always willing to help, and she recently provided financial assistance to students during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Jones said. “She had a special fundraiser for a graduating senior in need of a tuition scholarship, and it was because of her donation that the student was able to complete her studies. “