From its beginning, the Junior League of Salt Lake City has supported vital services.
It’s easy to see how the Junior League gets lumped in with sororities, bridge clubs and the like. The typical image of a “Leaguer” looks something like this: a stay-at-home mom with perfectly coifed hair, nails and clothes. She may even spend her days playing Bunco, shopping and sipping chardonnay. If you’ve read The Help, you get the picture.
But here in Utah the Junior League membership is quite the opposite. More than 60 percent of the Junior League of Salt Lake City’s 350-woman membership works full time, and a third are childless. In fact, rather than saving the world “one cocktail party at a time,” as one local Junior League husband likes to quip, the Junior League of Salt Lake City, in its 80-year existence, has seeded hundreds of local service organizations, contributed hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours to the community and groomed leaders who’ve touched almost every Salt Lake City nonprofit.
“Every year when I attend Utah Philanthropy Day, I look around the room and see [past] Junior League members who are now active in the community as volunteers, board members, staff and executive leaders of Utah’s nonprofits, or as donors and philanthropists,” says Janet Frasier, marketing director of the Natural History Museum of Utah and sustaining member of the Junior League of Salt Lake City. “The Junior League is really the heart of the nonprofit sector in our community.”
Back when it was founded in 1931, the Junior Aid (as it was then known) was frequent fodder in the Salt Lake Tribune’s Society Section. The paper regularly featured two-page spreads of members acting in plays, parading around in equestrian exhibitions, hitting the links at golf tournaments or modeling the latest trends in fashion shows.
But from its beginning, the Junior League of Salt Lake City has been very serious about helping those in need. Alongside the 1930s-era society section stories of Junior Aid ladies lunching are accounts of the same women contributing both time and money to Children’s Service Society, Girl Scouts, Travelers Aid and the city’s blind population, all at a time when many of the federal- and state-funded safety nets common today did not exist.
While its activities are not celebrated as publicly as they once were, today’s Junior League efforts are exponentially more widespread and vital to the Salt Lake City community.
Here’s how it works: Every three years the League selects a new project to fund and support with its legion of trained volunteers. Projects are chosen based on how they fulfill the League’s mission of improving the lives of women and children and are backed for three years or up to the point of self-sustenance. Organizations and services launched over the years run the gamut from the Art Barn to KUER and Wheeler Farm to the Rape Recovery Center. (Scroll down for a link to a complete list of Junior League projects.)
Provisional members host a party celebrating their latest cookbook (scroll down for more info).
The League’s current project, started in 2010, is Educating Parents/Investing in Children (EPIC). EPIC focuses on women at Palmer Court, Salt Lake City’s largest permanent supportive housing development for the homeless. Through this project, League members plan and facilitate monthly workshops to help women at Palmer Court work toward self-sufficiency.
In addition to seeding new organizations and services, the Junior League maintains three ongoing signature projects: CARE Fair, a two-day health care event held annually at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center where families receive medical care and assistance free of charge; Women Helping Women, a clothing boutique where women transitioning out of public assistance can shop for clothing that is interview and job appropriate; and Kids in the Kitchen, an effort to reverse skyrocketing childhood obesity rates by empowering at-risk kids to make healthy food choices.
Despite this commitment to these and other high profile projects and activities, many Utah residents are unaware the Junior League of Salt Lake City exists. “We’ve been putting on CARE Fair for 20 years and people still think of it as a Horizonte Center event because that’s where we host it,” says Jennifer Kelsey, Junior League of Salt Lake City branding and marketing chair and program coordinator with DDI Vantage. “Though our membership remains steady, many Leagues across the country are seeing dwindling numbers. I think that if we are going to grow, we need to get better at letting people know who we are and what we do.”
Jennifer Clark, current Junior League of SLC president, would like to see the League tap deeper into its sustaining membership—women who are no longer active members but maintain affiliation—and dispel those pesky preconceived notions about the Junior League. “I want people to know that anyone can join, you don’t have to be invited or have the letters of recommendation like you did in the past, and there’s no longer the 40-year-old age limit,” Clark says.
Junior League membership benefits go well beyond the warm fuzzies of helping where there’s a need. Julie Barrett, Rowland Hall associate head of school and Junior League sustaining member, attributes her career success directly to the Junior League. “I was the chair of the promotions and publicity committee the year the League presented the 1984 U.S. Figure Skating Championships,” Barrett says. “That experience taught me about managing volunteers, marketing, public relations, fundraising and working with advertising agencies within a very short time. All those skills have been vital to where my career is today.”
Much more than an extension of the college sorority years, the Junior League of SLC is a forum for friendships and professional and personal development, all the while filling very real community needs. “I’ve always hated how the Junior League gets compared to a sorority,” Kelsey says. “I didn’t do a lot of helping other people when I was in a sorority, and helping other people is all of what the Junior League does.”
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