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Article posted: 3/5/2013 12:34 PM

Junior League tackles issues for youths in need

By Christie Willhite

The Junior League of Kane and DuPage Counties has a habit of starting projects members don't intend to finish. More than a habit, really. A mission.

But rather than setting the league up for failure, the approach is the Junior League's secret to success.

Over and over, league members look for needs in the communities of DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties and dream up ways to solve the problems. Over and over, they start new projects to meet the needs they've identified and oversee them for a while to make sure they're effective.

Then the league turns over the successful endeavors to other organizations that will sustain the programs for the long run.

Several years ago, members wanted to help boost the self-esteem of high school girls from low-income families who couldn't afford to go to prom. In 2005, they launched Cinderella's Closet, allowing the girls to select donated dresses and accessories for free to enjoy prom with their classmates in style without the burdensome expense. In 2011, the Junior League turned the project over to the Elgin Junior Service Board.

In one of the Junior League's current projects, Kids in the Kitchen, members seek to address childhood obesity through an annual event that focuses on preparing healthy meals and snacks and touches on fitness and other aspects of wellness.

From time to time, league members drop in on an existing volunteer effort for a day, providing needed volunteers who wrap presents for the Humanitarian Service Project's Children's Birthday Project or redecorate a room at the Mutual Ground Shelter to provide a study and break room for teens.

Members even see the league's goal of promoting voluntarism and developing women's leadership potential as merely the start to a lifetime of leadership and service. Members receive training through the league's national organization that aims to help women master the skills needed to excel in service and in careers.

On Sunday, March 10, the league's Spring Fling luncheon and market will raise money for its latest project, Story Wizards, which sends volunteers to shelters, transitional living facilities and preschools to read with children and help with activities meant to enhance literacy skills in children at risk.

League President Alissa Johnson Tripas tells us more about the organization.

Q. What is your organization's mission?

A. The Junior League of Kane and DuPage Counties is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.

Q. How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?

A. Our current strategic plan allows us to focus on school-readiness and literacy. We do this through targeted relationships with area service agencies, public libraries, underserved schools and educational/literacy-based organizations utilizing our Story Wizards project.

Our Done in a Day projects enable us to help fill emergency needs through community partnerships and an effort that can be completed in a day's time.

Our Kids in the Kitchen project offers us the opportunity to put our collective life skills to work using literacy and action to teach children about healthy foods and nutrition to combat childhood obesity.

We also are working to further enhance our State Public Affairs Committee presence in Illinois to enable us to make a greater impact.

Q. Who do you serve?

A. We serve at-risk youth in the four-county areas of DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will.

Q. When and why did your chapter start? How has it grown?

A. The organization was formed as a volunteer group for women in 1992 and affiliated as the 284th member of the Association of Junior Leagues International in 1995. As a Junior League, we began making a positive impact in our communities in DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties.

Today, JLKD's growth has been marked not only by the number of members but the caliber of projects we have initiated (and turned back to) our community while remaining true to our mission to serve those most at-risk.

Q. What kind of successes have you had?

A. A recent success centered on a project we created from the ground up to serve young women who could not afford to attend the prom. We created the concept, developing deep relationships across all our communities to put gorgeous donated gowns in the hands of deserving teens to give them confidence, a sense of belonging and a positive memory of a milestone in their high school years.

Through that process we also were able to introduce this population to services they and their families needed. A true mark of the project's success was that once we had the project firmly established, we were able to transition it back to the community, where it continues today.

An additional example of our successes lies in the varied community partnerships we have had over the years, which has increased our ability to serve those who need us most.

Q. What challenges does JLKD currently face?

A. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to serve at-risk youth in a way that delivers service and dignity, and to continually grow our membership base.

Q. What would surprise most people if they spent a week with the Junior League?

A. I think many would be in awe of the training and growth opportunities we, and the Association of Junior Leagues International, offer to our members. Helping our members further develop their skills as trained volunteers positively impacts the work we do in our community, not only as current Junior League members but as future community leaders. Many have referred to us as volunteers possessing "professional" volunteer capacity.

Q. How can readers get involved?

A. The best way to get readers involved would be to join us in serving our communities through membership in the Junior League of Kane and DuPage Counties, and by supporting our organization through direct donations and by attendance at our fundraising events. A visit to our website, jlkd.org, can provide additional details.

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