By Shana Siren Kempton
Donned in crowns and gowns, members of the Missouri Rainbow Girls celebrated their 95th birthday in Springfield this summer at an annual convention known as the Grand Assembly. For an organization committed to charitable works, “Be Someone’s Hero” was a befitting theme, and the 375 girls and adults in attendance raised over $9,000 for St. Louis Crisis Nursery and packed 75 “boxes of sunshine” for the homebound elderly.
Rainbow Girls is a nonprofit youth organization focused on service and leadership for girls ages 11-20. Spanning nearly a century, the International Order of Rainbow Girls continues to shine across the globe as a beacon of sisterhood, service and traditional values. The Missouri group’s slogan is: “Rainbow gets girls ready for life!”
Lily Filkins, 16, of Kansas City, says that Rainbow “helps a girl learn to have her voice, to have not so much judgment in her life, and to find kindness and those who deserve it.” At the Grand Assembly, Filkins’ commitment was honored with the Masonic Youth Award given for “service without regard of reward” which included a $1,000 scholarship. She raised funds and collected over 200 small item donations for Shep’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary. Another $14,000 in scholarships was awarded at the convention.
In 1922 W. Mark Sexson, a Christian minister and Mason, formed Rainbow Girls for daughters of Masons and their friends in McAlister, Oklahoma. The first Missouri assembly was established the following year. Rainbow’s genesis in a Masonic lodge connects the girls to a supportive fraternal network, however, no Masonic affiliation is required to join.
While non-denominational, many of the core teachings at Rainbow meetings have a biblical influence. In fact, the term “rainbow” references the “bow set in the cloud” by God in the book of Genesis as a symbol of a promise from heaven to get through the challenges of life. The seven colors of the rainbow correspond with virtues upheld by the members. From red to indigo they highlight love, religion, nature, immortality, fidelity, patriotism and service.
“It wasn’t a substitute for church because they definitely don’t want that, but it was a complement to my Christian upbringing,” expresses Donna Freeman, 77, of Springfield, who has remained active in Rainbow for 64 years.
Membership in the organization swelled through the 1960s but has since steadily declined to a global membership of 275,000 girls, including 300 from Missouri. “We have a big push for membership right now by our Supreme Deputy – that’s her focus for the coming year,” says Freeman. “The biggest issue is getting adult leadership.”
Much like a sorority, Rainbow Girls go through an initiation and can begin as younger pledges. After the age of 20, many women continue as volunteer advisors. “Once a Rainbow Girl, always a Rainbow girl,” stated Lorraine Gieringer, 64, of Raytown, who cherishes the bonds she has formed. “It will lead you toward having forever friends and sisters for life. We’re family.”
Meetings are held bi-monthly at a Masonic lodge. Girls learn parliamentary procedure, hold offices, plan activities and service projects, polish speaking skills and build relationships. Events are chaperoned and parents are always welcome. At formal events, girls in leadership wear crowns to denote their position.
“It kind of just prepares you for the real world,” says Elayna Mottaz, 20, of Columbia. Mottaz recently was installed as Missouri’s new Grand Worthy Advisor, a position much like president. “Being able to talk to all different types of people is one of the most important things, and now that I have that skill, I am way more confident.”
Mottaz chose “Live your own fairy tale” as this year’s theme. Growing up she admired all the fairy tale princesses, but felt drawn to Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog since her own skin “appears more black than white.” She wants girls to remember, “YOU have the pen to your own story. YOU have the pen to your own life!”