“It’s such a wonderful blessing to be active, alive and able to contribute,” said Jorja Clemson, the founder of the Big Event in Grand Prairie, Texas. Jorja and her family have been involved in their community in Grand Prairie, Texas, for generations. As former mayor pro tem and deputy mayor pro tem, and current member of the city council, there’s hardly an organization in her city that hasn’t benefited from her leadership: Lifeline Shelters (with our former guest Angela Giessner), and Kids In Need of Clothing, (aka Kids, Inc). She’s a life member of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and served as president of the City Council of PTAs. She has led in various capacities with the Grand Prairie Education Foundation, the Grand Prairie High School Alumni Association and her neighborhood association, the Library Board, Arts Council, Historical Organization, Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Club and was the founding president of the Junior Women’s Club. She is the host of the GPTV’s “It’s Happening in Grand Prairie”. She’s been honored as Grand Prairie’s Woman of the Year, named among the Outstanding Young Women of America for two consecutive years, and was inducted into the Soroptimists’ Women in History Hall of Fame. Jorja is a graduate of the University of Texas at Alington, the former president of Store Service Inc, and the current president of Jorja Clemson Properties. She’s active in Bible Study Fellowship, and her church, CrossPoint. She is celebrating her golden anniversary this year with her husband Dan, their three children and eight grandchildren. Despite her many accomplishments, Jorja says of herself, “I see myself as a very blessed child of God. I see myself as a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. In the city realm, I see myself as a servant leader. I am just so blessed to have the opportunity to serve others.”
The idea for the Big Event in Grand Prairie began when Jorja’s grandson came home from college and told her about his community work at Texas A&M University. TAMU’s Big Event, which began in 1982, is the largest one-day, student-run service project in the country. Since its inception, The Big Event’s 18,592 volunteers have logged 1,032,036 hours serving 2319 residents doing yard work, window washing, painting, and trash removal in 125 communities. “It’s a fabulous idea. Not only do we get an opportunity to love on our neighbors, but we get an opportunity to keep Grand Prairie beautiful. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Jorja explained. “We have on target 1000 volunteers, and 100 jobs helping the elderly, veterans, anyone who needs a little help. We will tackle those jobs with volunteers from churches, the Rotary Club and other organizations, the city faculty and staff, and other members of our community.”
Jorja recalled projects that involved cleaning the home of a deceased hoarder, tearing down and removing a dilapidated shed, raking leaves, cleaning backyards, city trails and campsites, and painting over 4000 square feet of graffiti in a storm drain. “We cleaned a ¾ acre yard of a 92 year old veteran who had been unable to work in his yard for over a year, and filled 100 trash bags of material from that one job. We help families get in touch with the housing department, and we get them services they didn’t even realize they qualify for. It’s a great opportunity to be a blessing to our neighbors and those in need.”
“The best way to get involved is to go online and register. And come with a whole group, because it is so much more fun with a group,” Jorja said. “If you don’t have a group, we’ll put a group together with individuals. And if you have a need yourself, you can go online and make a request. We can do things outdoors with the yard or the garage. This doesn’t cost the city or the residents anything, just the time they devote to it. We have city staff who volunteer to go out and vet the jobs for us, and make sure it is a safe place, and that it is something that can be done in the morning that is set aside for it.” The deadline to register is March 1. The kick-off rally is Saturday, March 26, 8:00 a.m. at South Grand Prairie High School.
Jorja’s ideas have resulted in other big dreams come true, like Kids, Inc., the HeART Art Project, and Chicken N Pickle. Kids, Inc. (In Need of Clothes), started when Jorja observed that some children in her school district didn’t have appropriate or adequate basic clothing to wear to school. When she heard about a similar program in a neighboring district, she couldn’t wait to tell the members of the Women’s Club and the school superintendent. “They were all in favor of it, of course. There was a need, and we saw the need, and we were able to meet it. A lot of dedicated people came together to make that happen. It has become a 501(c)3. We work closely with school counselors so if they see a need, we can do it discreetly and provide the children and their parents what they need,” Jorja said.
The HeART Art Project came about because Jorja wanted to create photo opportunities so everyone could see how beautiful her city is. First came the murals at the Farmer’s Market; next, the fallen log with a heart carved into its side, located at Waggoner Park. “That is so exciting for me, because the heart shows love, expressions of kindness, and unity,” Jorja said. There is a sculpture made of butterflies in the Main Library, and a growing collection of city-authorized painted utility boxes at intersections all over town. “There is an open call right now for new ones. I hope someone will incorporate the HeART in some of those.”
“One of my passions is pickleball. People who don’t know what pickleball is, I’m sad for them. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in America. It is a fun game, a cross between tennis, pingpong, and badminton. You get exercising and socializing. It’s challenging for those of us who like to compete,” Jorja said. She first observed people playing pickleball at the indoor court at the Summit, a state-of-the-art senior center in Grand Prairie. As she was making her way around the indoor track, slowly rebuilding her strength, rebounding from cancer, she thought, “What fun! If I keep walking around this track and getting stronger and stronger, the good Lord may bless me and I will get to play that game some day.” The day finally came. “The most wonderful people helped me learn how to play, and taught me the rules,” she said. Seeing her growing excitement about the game, the city leaders sent her to Kansas City to scout out Chicken N Pickle, a popular venue that blends pickleball, yard games, a casual chef-driven restaurant and bar, with indoor and patio seating. “We’ve got to have this in Grand Prairie,” Jorja determined, and was thrilled when Chicken N Pickle chose to develop in Grand Prairie, rather than several other desirable locations nearby. “I love meeting new people and making new friends. Now I have my real family, my city family, my church family and my pickleball family,” she said. “I would encourage people to come out even if they don’t play. Have lunch and go to the indoor courts and watch some of the matches.”
Jorga could go on and on about all of the reasons she loves her hometown, its people, schools, churches, historic downtown, libraries, parks, small businesses, restaurants and shopping centers, city services, and attractions like Lone Star Park, The Summit, and The Epic. She would tell you of her big vision for the city’s future that includes new eateries, hotels and conference centers, and a water show on The Epic pond. “We have an unusual city–which is a good thing! It’s full of good people that make up our community and make it so special. Grand Prairie is more than epic,” Jorja said.
For people who don’t live in Grand Prairie, Jorja offers this advice, “There are a lot of people who have great ideas, great hearts and don’t know where to go or what to do. Go to the city leaders, find people with the same mindset, people who are already involved and have a heart for service. Those are the people you go to to get advice on getting things started; bounce your ideas off them as well. Just give it a try. Start somewhere. Go for it. It’s such a wonderful feeling. After you’ve been involved and been able to make a difference for someone else you’ll want to do it again.”