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A League of Their Own

By Miriam Landru
Photography by: Jen Tarbox, www.jentarboxphotography.com

Perhaps the most recognized and arguably the most respected volunteer and service group for women began in 1901 in New York, New York by Mary Harriman Rumsey, daughter of railroad magnate, Edward H. Harriman.

A predecessor of the Association of Junior Leagues International, Rumsey started the New York Junior League so that women in Gotham City’s society would have an opportunity to provide to those most in need.

As word spread about Rumsey’s enterprise, women in larger cities around the country started their own Leagues. Fifty-four years ago, three women by the names of Jane Williamson, Jan Stedman and Ellenor Barker came together to form what is now the Junior League of Fayetteville.  “It was a Junior Service League to begin with. When we got together, we found a nucleus of girls we thought would be interested in working with us and most were local. When we first started, we would take anyone in who moved to town who was already a Junior League member and anyone who would come to town who was a Junior Service League member. When we started out, we met at the old Scottish Bank,” explained Barker.

During Carol Quigg’s presidency in the League from 1978 to 1979, the Junior Service League finally became a member of the Association of Junior leagues International (AJLI).  “That was a journey getting us inducted in. The Junior League is the best vehicle I can think of to prepare you for leadership in any field for young women. It is a terrific training ground. Volunteerism is a huge part of it,” explained Quigg. “I was very proud to belong to the Junior League because of all the good it did. When we became a member of the AJLI, we linked into their progressive thinking, ideas and we could get information from them anytime we needed it.”

Today, JLF has 30 provisional members, 125 active members and 153 sustaining members. A provisional member is a new member to the League who spends around nine months learning the history and responsibilities of the organization. “In 1980, during my provisional membership year, we met every Monday for two hours for nine months. It was a BIG commitment,” recalled Winnie Grannis, a sustaining member and former League president. Still a considerable and worthy commitment, the League recognizes that most young women work outside the home and sometimes have other responsibilities. Now, provisional meetings are once a month and attendance to General Membership Meetings (where provisional, active and sustaining members are side by side) is encouraged and mandatory. Provisional members of the Junior League are ready to serve the community. “Since I was young, my will to help others, especially those in my local community has served as a passion of mine. Being able to impact my community and those in need, serves as part of my moral compass. Junior League provides the opportunity to combine my passion for impacting change with those whose goals and objectives coordinate with those that I possess,” stressed provisional member Jalisha Pone. Active members are well schooled in the rules and mission of the League, have completed all mandatory requirements and can hold officer positions within the group. Sustaining members have 10 years of service or more to the League and hold advisory positions. The youngest one can join as a provisional is 21-years-old and Fayetteville’s League has sustainers well into their eighties!

When the League started in the early 1960s, it was a way for stay-at-home moms to get out into the community and do some great work, learn from each other and have somewhat of a sisterhood. “Later, more women started having careers and still wanted to be connected to their community. The vast majority of League members internationally are working full-time jobs, running small businesses and actively participating in League activities,” stressed Melissa Reed, current JLF President. And yes, she said internationally. Junior Leagues number 293 across the United States, Great Britain, Canada and Mexico. Reed continued, “Now that many of our members work outside of the home, they don’t have a lot of free time. With the League, a volunteer group is already there for you. You don’t have to do a lot of research because some of us simply don’t have time to do that…it’s already there.

Speaking of opportunities to serve, Fayetteville’s chapter has a narrowed focus dedicated to improving child mental health, which began in 2009-2010.

JLF, along with several agencies in the community collaborated to form the Child Mental Health Advisory Board. Along with President Melissa Reed, mental health professionals from Cumberland Mental Health Agency, Womack Army Medical Center, the Autism Society, Fayetteville Family Life Center, Partnership for Children of Cumberland County, Cumberland County Schools, among others serve on the board.

Every year, non-profits from across Cumberland County are encouraged to apply for the League’s Community Assistance Program (CAP) Grants in order to help financially support entities that help our children.

The Junior League receives money through donations, but a considerable amount is also derived from sales of the “The Carolina Collection Cookbook” and especially the four-day holiday bazaar which is almost synonymous with the Junior League itself…the Holly Day Fair.
The Holly Day Fair concept began in 1966 as a Christmas card sales fund. In 1989 at the Crown Expo Center, it grew to having an attendance well over 25,000 and a profit of $105,000. Today, the Holly Day Fair is the largest holiday gift and craft show in Eastern North Carolina. Every year, over 200 vendors showcase their wares ranging from Christmas wreaths to specialty gifts and many local muscadine wineries hold tastings. In 2013, the shopping extravaganza raised over $200,000. All the League’s profits are given back to our community.

Preparing for the Holly Day Fair does not happen overnight. As soon as it ends in November, planning for next year starts. “It takes from January on to prepare for the next Holly Day Fair,” confirmed Grannis, also a former Chair of the bazaar.

One of the most well known community building activities the League takes on is “Kids in the Kitchen.” This activity, taken to task by provisional members and their advisors, primarily tackles the issue of childhood obesity in a creative and active way. Past “Kids in the Kitchen” events have been fun runs and jump rope contests, which took place at Gray’s Creek Elementary or health expos and boot camps geared toward children like the one held a few years ago at Cape Fear Botanical Garden. Each provisional class, (there are two a year, one begins in January and the other in August) comes together to decide on an event, melding their ideas and creates something meaningful and beneficial for the child.

However, “Kids in the Kitchen” is not the only volunteer opportunity for members of the Junior League. “We have done things from working with the Child Advocacy Center to the Boys and Girls Club of Cumberland County. We have also participated in helping with the pumpkin patch that is done every year with the Partnership for Children.” Reed paused to take a breath and continued, “We volunteer with their annual event, Soiree, and participated in reading opportunities for children in Cumberland County Schools. Each year the volunteer opportunities change.”

Many working moms constitute Fayetteville’s chapter and quite a few are military wives looking to delve into the community outside of the army post. And when you meet the ladies of the League, one should notice a clear representation of our All-America City. “I think one of the great things about Fayetteville is that we really do represent the community. We are one of the few Leagues that are very multi-cultural. W ith us being so close to Fort Bragg, we have the wonderful opportunity to have military spouses and soldiers who want to connect to the community… even if for a short time,” Reed said confidently. One thing to note about the League, is that even if you move…your time serving is not over. League memberships are transferable worldwide.

Sustaining member Grannis concluded, “The Junior League helps you get along with people, teaches you how to chair a community meeting and understand the process of how committees work together. It gives you the self-confidence you need to go into your community and volunteer!”
To become a member of the Junior League of Fayetteville, you must be a community-minded woman over 21 years of age. More information can be found at www.jlfay.org.