Junior League of Salt Lake City: Tradition in the 21st century

Story and multimedia by MEGAN SWEENEY

In 1901 Mary Harriman founded the women’s society called the Junior League. Her selfless efforts were focused on the immigrant children living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She wanted to improve the health, nutrition and literacy of those who had recently come to America.

Since 1934 the Junior League of Salt Lake City (JLSLC) has been an active chapter. It is currently comprised of 555 members. According to the JLSLC website, the focus of the league has shifted from the arts, social welfare, child welfare and criminal justice system education to the critical environmental issues, women and substance abuse, mentally ill adults, and health care issues.

The name “Junior League” is derived from the 80 original members who were recruited by Harriman.She was just 19 at the time.In the beginning Harriman herself was only 19-years-old at the time but gathered about 80 other “juniors” to aid in her mission.

In 1903, Eleanor Roosevelt became inspired by Harriman and decided to join the League. Her contribution was teaching calisthenics and dancing at the College Settlement House for girls.

Roosevelt is just one of many famous women to join the League over the years. The alumni consist of people such as Barbara and Laura Bush, Betty Ford, Shirley Temple Black, and Katharine Hepburn.

The Junior League became an international society in 1912 when the first Junior League of Canada was founded in Montreal. The organization’s mission was becoming cross-cultural.

With 292 sectors, the needs of the community from London, England, differ from those of Mexico City or Greenwich, Conn.

In Utah there are two separate leagues that focus on the community needs in their respective areas. One league is located in Ogden while the other is in the Salt Lake valley.
Both Utah leagues are focused on nonprofit work and fundraising but in different ways to be more specific to the community needs.

The League creates networks among women who are both members and non-members. The Junior League is also more than events and fundraising for the community. It is a training organization.

There is an education and training committee that focuses on recognizing the members’ skills and setting up workshops to help educate women and children on things such as computers, marketing, public relations, etc.

Lindsay Stahl sorting mass amounts of clothes.

The efforts to help better the community along with the League’s active members is what enticed Lindsay Stahl to start becoming involved.

The initiation process for new members can take a couple months. According to the website, during this process they are called “Provisionals.” New members start with a hands-on introduction and overviews of the fundraising events hosted by the JLSLC. At the end, they will be voted into active membership.

Stahl, who is now special events director at the Junior League of Salt Lake City, first joined the League because she was interested in giving back to the community. She said she “liked how the league was different from the normal Utah society” that she had grown up in.

Before she joined the League Stahl had no idea about its history but soon found out the significant impact the organization has made over the years. After getting to know other members she realized how important the League is and how long members have been involved.

Members such as Wendy Warner has been with the League for eight years. Warner is a Preferred Active. That means she isn’t on a specific committee but rather volunteers her time on various events. Her love of cookbooks was how Warner was initially introduced to the League.

Over the years, she has acquired 11 Junior League cookbooks from all around the United States. Her excitement is focused now on the newest release of SLC’s “Salt and Honey,” which will be released in early 2012.

What Warner has realized about the League is how it balances her life. “There are a lot of people, even here in Salt Lake, that don’t have a fraction of what we have,” she says. “It is also a great way to network.”

Both Stahl and Warner realize there a lot of misconceptions surrounding the League.

Warner says non-members would describe the members and functions of the league using  terms such as hoighty-toighty, party, elitist group of women. In reality, they are focusing on the community and pulling together events for Kids in the Kitchen or Women Helping Women.

Kids in the Kitchen focuses on tackling the increasingly alarming issue of childhood obesity and malnutrition. In Salt Lake City there are over 250 children in grades 3-5 who are taught various aspects of maintaining a healthy diet. There is an emphasis on how important exercise is along with portion control for your overall health.

Women Helping Women is a boutique founded in 1996 at 526 East and 300 South. Since then it has helped professionally clothe more than 12,000 women in the Salt Lake community.

The recipients of the clothing are transitioning into a self-sufficient lifestyle.The initial steps in this process start with first impressions. To a potential employer their appearance is extremely important.

Example of what to find at the boutique.

Jennifer Kelsey, president of the Junior League of Salt lake City, says that her favorite job is working in the Women Helping Women boutique.

Kelsey describes the League as “a nice place to link up and join other women who are likeminded and have something in common.” She knows each woman joins the league for different reasons but the common bond that the women share is the focus on helping women and children in the community.
Since 1901 the Junior League has brought together women from all over the world to help make the community a better place and to encourage a better future for the children. This was the initial dream when Mary Harriman started with just 80 people almost 110 years ago.

Since then the League has grown to more than 155,000 members in 292 countries because of the success and the message that the League shares throughout the world. That message, the outstanding members and what Warner calls “getting the fuzzies” from volunteering is what makes the League timeless.

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