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Making great strides

Junior League of Jackson has grown to one of largest in the world

When the Junior League of Jackson (JLJ) was formed in 1941, it was a far different world than today. Most women didn’t work outside of the home, and it wasn’t until late in 1941 that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor drawing the U.S. into World War II.

It is hard to calculate how much things have changed in those 70 years, but one thing has remained the same with the JLJ. This non-profit group still makes a huge difference with its core mission to help the well-being of children, with members volunteering more than 33,000 hours each year.

Junior Leagues are now spread not just across the country, but the world. The JLJ, with an active membership of 800, has grown to be the eighth largest Junior League in the world.

“Way back 70 years ago the League was the premier volunteer organization in the community, and one of the few besides the churches,” said JLJ president Valerie Linn. “Now there are a lot more volunteer opportunities for women out there. When you look at women chairing big events for other non-profits, you see that a lot of them are members of the Junior League. Our mission is not just to serve our community, but to train and develop the potential of women.”

Women often tell Linn that through their JLJ service they are learning to do things they haven’t done before like home improvement skills such as installing tile or handling power tools, to speaking in front of a group or managing a project budget.

As times have changed, so has the League. About 70 percent of JLJ members now work outside of the home. Many combine careers with motherhood, so finding time to volunteer can be a challenge.

“The JLJ, as all leagues through country and world, has had to change in order to keep up with the difference women are making in society,” said Linn, who is a speech pathologist with the KIDS Clinic operated by the Mississippi Society for Disabilities. “As women have moved more into the workforce, the League has made changes to accommodate their desire to volunteer to meet the needs of the community.”

One thing they have done is create “blitz projects” such as a Habitat build or art camp, where the majority of the work is concentrated into a week or two. Moms might send the kids off to the grandparents for a week, or get extra help from their husbands. They have added more evening projects, since that works out better for many women.

Every member has a different major project every year. Members are able to select their own project.

“It really is a privilege working with women who already have full lives, but feel a need to volunteer and make their community better,” Linn said. “Working with women like that is inspiring. I’ve enjoyed it. One great thing about working with women, whether they are stay-at-home moms or have careers, is that they are so adaptable. They are ready to roll with the flow.”

As with any successful business, the JLJ and its membership have embraced societal changes and incorporate short and long-term strategic goals into their annual planning.

“We have been significantly growing in our diversity,” Linn said. “Volunteering is a great way to break down barriers. It is reflective of women and our society in that everybody wants to serve, and each year we review how we can work more efficiently, so that our members can balance their family and careers with community service.”

Age of members is another difference.  Women are starting careers younger, marrying later and having children later. The age range for an active JLJ member was 26-40 years. It changed a few years ago and now women up to age 45 can join. Members are asked to serve seven years, but can choose to extend their active service. Many of the JLJ’s project leaders are volunteering longer than the required seven years.

In addition to donations of hours, JLJ also has a Bargain Boutique retail store. Some people volunteer there as their project, and everyone in the league donates $50 worth of gently used clothing and household items every year.

“That is another way we serve the community,” Linn said.

JLJ held a number of events in the second week of February to celebrate its anniversary. Activities included serving lunch at Stewpot Community Services, participating in a Legislative Day at the Capitol, hosting a carnival for the children at the West Capitol Boys and Girls Club and volunteers reading “The Quiltmaker’s Gift,” by Jeff Brumbeau, in 70 Jackson Public Schools at four elementary schools. Quilt squares are being assembled by League volunteers, and a commemorative quilt will be given to each of the four schools.

Other activities include a revival of the JLJ singing group to visit and entertain at area retirement homes and a special donation of supplies to the heARTworks program at Stewpot Community Services.

The JLJ has 140 new members this year. February 7 they met at the home of Nora Frances McRae, the same home where the League charter was created 70 years ago.

See related story here.

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