One thing people love about Lake Highlands is the community involvement of residents. Our neighborhood is full of organizations working to improve the lives of those living inside and outside our neighborhood.

There’s the Lake Highlands Women’s League, the Exchange Club of Lake Highlands, the Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association and the Texas Women’s Shooting Sports.

Come again? The Texas Women’s Shooting Sports?

The group, formed to encourage women to hunt and shoot, has a good percentage of its members from our neighborhood.

That’s probably because its founder, Judy Rhodes, has been a neighborhood resident since 1975. An avid hunter for much of her life, Rhodes says she realized a few years ago she should become a spokesperson for the right to own and shoot guns.

“I just picked up the banner for women,” she says. “No one else was doing it, and I decided we’re not gonna let anti-shooters succeed. What gives them the right to say I can’t hunt and shoot, and do things I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a child?”

One of the group’s goals, she says, is to have women introduce the sport to kids.

“A study was done,” she says, “that showed that two generations of shooters and hunters has been lost.

“We don’t want the art of shooting and hunting to die,” she adds. “It’s important that we get it back into the home and teach it to our children. We’ll be instrumental in that.”

The group is serious about these issues, but also serious about having fun together. They hold many social and shooting activities for members, such as the recent “Shoes, Champagne and Shotguns” event at Steven Spodek shoe store in University Park.

“It was such a great night,” Rhodes says, “and you couldn’t keep the [shoe] boxes from flying off the shelves.”

As proof of their larger-than-life, fun-loving ways, the group decided at their first dinner to name themselves DIVAs.

“I just looked around the room at this great group of women,” Rhodes says, “and I thought, ‘We’re divas. That’s what we should call ourselves.’ Now people ask us what DIVA means, and I tell them it’s not an acronym, it’s an attitude.”

Rhodes has traveled the world to pursue her sport, recently returning from her 11th trip to Africa.

“The first time I went to Africa, I found my soul,” she says. “You see lions and elephants and hear all the birds as you’re waiting quietly, and you find peace within yourself. It’s a peace with God and nature, a harmony within yourself. It’s sort of like Oprah, with her ‘a-ha’ moment.

“I’m always very respectful of nature and the animals. We eat what we shoot. And before shooting, I say a little prayer, thanking God for what nature’s given me.”

The prayers must work. Rhodes’ home is filled with animal trophies earned by her and husband Sam. She has taken 32 animals with a single shot, she says.

“I’d say I’m a really good marksman,” she says.

She also says she’s thrilled with the growth the DIVAs have seen over the past two years. They haven’t gone a single week without adding at least one member. At most recent count, there were more than 360 dues-paying DIVAs from Texas and around the world.

“I used to have to get out the hat and cane and do the dog and pony show to ask people to join,” she says. “Now women call us to join.”

Does all this mean our neighborhood, known for its Beaver Cleaver-type family atmosphere, is full of gun-toting women?

Lake Highlands resident and DIVA Kathleen McCarthy says no. In fact, she says the group’s members don’t fit that stereotype at all.

“It’s not shoot’em up, everybody running around being Annie Oakley,” she says. “In fact, it’s almost the complete opposite. Most are very well educated.”

McCarthy is among that majority, being a CPA with a master’s in business administration from Southern Methodist University.

“I think you’d be amazed at who you run into,” she says. “There’s a w hole spectrum of people who do it, from prim and proper to very rugged, Ph.D.’s to people who never went to college. Some of the women are independently wealthy, but for the most part it’s professionals.”

Their differences, she says, don’t prevent them from being a close group.

“We really try to get in touch with all types of people,” she says. “It’s incredible to see all the friendships that form, even between different age groups.

In fact, the group’s social aspects are the main reason many women join.

Lake Highlands resident Shirley Dixon is one of those women. She learned about the group in a newspaper ad about a membership drive last year. She called Rhodes, who encouraged her to come to the event, held at the Beretta Gallery in Highland Park Village.

“I was kind of skeptical,” Dixon says, “but when I met Judy, I felt like I’d known her all my life. All the women were so accepting and made me feel like a part of them. I joined that night.”

Being married for 26 years with seven children and stepchildren, Dixon says most of her adult life has been spent focused on others.

“For 20 years,” she says, “I dedicated all my time to family, career and keeping house. I wasn’t used to doing for myself. I hadn’t maintained friendships, and without even realizing it, my self-esteem had gone totally south.”

But since joining a little more than a year ago, all that has changed.

“They’ve just made a new woman out of me,” she says. “It’s amazing how much my confidence has improved. I feel enlightened and empowered, just from being a part of something. I’m having as much fun as I’ve ever had in my life.”

Dixon shoots shotgun and pistol, and enjoys dove hunting.

“I have no qualms at all about killing animals,” she says. “I’ve never shot anything we didn’t eat. I’ve not been a trophy hunter, but I respect anyone’s right to do it.”

Still, she says she particularly enjoys sporting clay events.

“I’m not very good at it,” she says, “but I just enjoy it so much. One of the things that binds us together is the friendly competition. It’s kind of like bowling. It’s a hobby.”

McCarthy, who had never even touched a gun before joining the DIVAs, also enjoys the sporting clay events. Originally joining because the women were “so great,” McCarthy says she soon realized she enjoyed the sport itself.

“It’s just fun working to get good at something,” she says. “It’s a lot harder than it looks. It takes a lot of patience and concentration to hit something. And if you have a bad day, going out and breaking stuff is kinda fun.”

Besides all the fun they have, McCarthy says that they serve a vital purpose.

“If it weren’t for hunters and groups like us,” she says, “you wouldn’t have the parks and wildlfe there. We work with the state on programs and conservation, to teach about the outdoors. And our biggest focus is safety.”

Some of the safety programs the group sponsors include bi-annual clinics where instructors teach basic lessons on shooting and handling guns. The group has also distributed free gunlocks at local gun shops.

“We like to get together and have fun,” she says. “But gun safety is not for fun. We take it very seriously.”

The group attends a variety of shooting competitions throughout the country. They recently hosted the Pat Auld Apperson Texas Shoot-Out and sent nine 3-person groups to San Antonio to compete in the Sportsman Team Challenge National Championship.

This month, they’ll head to Hollywood to compete in a celebrity charity shoot.

“I heard about it and realized we should go,” Rhodes says. “We’re DIVAs, after all, so that’s where we need to be.”

And when they go, Dixon will be among their numbers.

“I’ve already decided on my shooting partner,” says the grandmother of nine. “I heard Tom Selleck is going to be there.”

For more information on the DIVAs, visit www.txdiva.com or call 866-TEX-DIVA.