Thursday, March 15, 2007
It's Recruiting Season! Eyebrows Wants YOU ...
to join the Junior League.
"But EEEEEEEYEbrows," you whine, "that's all white-glovey and stuff. They'd make me wear skirts!"
Silly readers. This is the midwest, and Peoria's League is a midwestern League. We're very practical and not terribly concerned about image. Or white gloves. (Where do you even BUY those anymore?) In the last decade, the League has changed a lot. There are a lot more professional women in the League. People wear jeans to meetings. Once I even wore pajama pants without thinking twice about it, and then I felt all good about myself because another woman was wearing pajama pants too, except then I realized she was in scrubs and had come to the meeting right from surgery or something. And then I felt like a dork. But not about my pajama pants.
What exactly is the Junior League? I'm so glad you asked. Begun in New York City in 1901 by a debutante named Mary Harriman who rejected the excesses of the New York social set of the era and went to work on the Lower East Side in the tenement slums, improving children's health, nutrition, and education. She organized 80 other young debutantes to do the same. (Eleanor Roosevelt joined her in 1903.) In 1907 a Boston League was founded; by 1912, the League had a chapter in Montreal. (Were these women not terribly more useful than today's jet set celebutantes?)
Today there are more than 170,000 women in 293 Leagues in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the U.K.
There are two things that make the Junior League different from many other volunteer organizations: First, it serves as a project incubator, and second, it provides unparalleled training opportunities for volunteers. The latter, early League members realized, was crucial to a useful and efficient League, and for decades the League provided women with the kinds of executive and managerial training that men got in the workplace (while women were still at home). Many more of us today work and have those skills, but the League is still a fertile training ground. I've taken advantage of opportunities to learn a lot about grant-writing and fundraising in my two years as an Active member in the League, and I've learned a lot about project management. (There are opportunities for both formal and informal training in all kinds of arenas, which I won't detail here because this post is already long and going to get longer.)
As a project incubator, the League identifies a problem in the community, researches and develops a solution, implements it, makes the program self-supporting or self-sustaining, and hands it off to a community group that runs it from there on out (or spins it off into its own charity, as the case may be). This leaves the League free to apply its expertise to another problem -- and it means there's always something new to do.
Here in Peoria, the Junior League (our chapter was founded in 1936) has created a ton of programs you probably know about, but may not have known our involvement in. Its very first project was a dental dispensary for Peoria Public School children who couldn't afford dentistry, and the Leaguers actually trained as dental hygeniests to assist the dentist! We opened the first maternity center in Illinois in 1939, followed quickly by a Well-Baby Clinic. The League implemented District 150's vision and hearing screening program in the 50s (still going strong today); the Peoria Symphony Orchestra's Youth Concerts series was also founded by the League in the 50s.
Other projects we founded include the docent program at Lakeview, Race for the Cure in Peoria, TriCentennial and Riverfront playgrounds, Project Success, Keepsacks for Kids, and Family House (from the ground up, perhaps the biggest project our League had undertaken before our current museum project).
Our current major project, as I'm sure you're all aware, is the Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum, and we're currently in our strategic planning phase looking at what we'll tackle next when we've built this museum.
The one thing I've not mentioned yet is that the Junior League is FUN. You meet a lot of like-minded women who care about the community. Make a lot of friends. Eat a LOT of food (oh, yum, the food!).
Today's League has no upper age limit; any woman over the age of 20 is eligible for membership. We have active members in their 40s, 50s, and I'm pretty sure 60s but I'm not going to ask because I might get smacked. (Also? Now that women are staying in the League longer, we have ever so much more free child labor available from teenagers and pre-teens. So useful.) Our "retired" members are known as "Sustainers" and remain involved in the League, providing support for members and projects (and more food). You don't have to live in Peoria -- just nearby, although "near" could be quite a distance if you don't mind the drive! You do not have to be married (heck, you don't have to be straight). You do not have to have graduated from a particular school or sorority. You do not have to own white gloves. And that's not empty platitudes -- we have women who are married, single, child-laden, childless, working, at home, in every job and profession you could imagine.
And I know most of you women will understand when I say that what I treasure most about the League is that there's NOT this whole "mommy wars" or "culture clash" thing going on -- it's the one place where I really feel like I have an opportunity to be friends with women who have chosen to have kids and work, have kids and stay home, not have kids whatsoever, and there's no judging and bitching and lifestyle superiority crap going on.
When I get excited about something, I always want to get everyone else excited about it too. It's part of my inborn nerdiness. I feel the urge to share the awesomeness. And the Peoria Junior League is definitely kick-ass. You will not find a better, more vibrant group of women in the Peoria area to involve yourself in. (And friendly. I joined when I was brand new to Peoria and Leaguers made sure to take care of me and help me find doctors and shopping and restaurants and so forth.)
So if you're an XX chromosome, think about it. Contact me at my social e-mail address -- lpetelle AT yahoo DOT com, or catch me on AIM with the screen name EyebrowsMG. I'll tell you anything you want to know, try my best to infect you with League Fever, and help you get the ball rolling.
If you're an XY chromosome, sorry about that, but I'd be just delighted to utilize your labor on our projects! (Ask Mr. McGee or PeoriaIllinoisan, both League husbands. We love man-help.)