In April 1921, a group of ten young ladies described by the Sioux City Journal as “the younger social set” chartered the Junior League of Sioux City. Their interest was creating an organization for volunteer services. The local Junior League has been associated with the national organization since its founding, both of which pre-date the Association of Junior Leagues International.
The organization has grown and today has 55 active members. In addition, more than 200 sustaining members provide financial support to projects and provide a historical perspective on the board of the organization. This year Nadine Meis is the Junior League of Sioux City’s President. “I hadn’t really heard about Junior League until I went golfing with some co-workers. It turns out that event was a Junior League fundraiser. I learned about the organization, liked that it wasn’t associated with one specific non-profit, and decided to join.”
As Nadine notes, the Junior League’s focus for community involvement changes with an active participation process of membership determining the projects and activities each year. Each year, non-profit organizations have an opportunity to submit applications for the Junior League projects. The Junior League’s community council reviews the applications for cultural contribution components, alignment with overall League focus, how it will improve the community, etc. Selected non-profits are then invited to make a presentation to the committee and the information is disseminated to full League membership during the March meetings. In April, the general membership determines which project, if any, will be the focus of the group.
“There are so many projects the Junior League has done in our community that most people don’t associate with Junior League,” said Meis. “The first project focus of the Junior League in 1921 was the creation of a Baby Well Clinic.” The Sioux City Journal archives detail the achievement of this goal in 1929, when a clinic was opened in City Hall. In 1937, the clinic moved to the Community House (now Mary J. Treglia Community House). The Junior League sustained the project until it was turned over to the Woodbury County Health Unit in the 1940s; however, their volunteers continued to staff the clinic until 1954.
Long-time Siouxlanders may remember the Gateway Arches, a series of three arches surrounded by a pond and green space along Interstate 29 near the downtown exit. “The arches were a Junior League project,” Meis noted. “Some of our projects are social impact, some are beautification or cultural. It really depends on what the membership wants to focus on at the time.”
Other notable projects in the community were the purchase of the Pierce Mansion in the 1950s and the Fairview Heritage School in the 1970s. “Pierce Mansion is leased to the city for $1 per year,” Meis explained. “It is to be used for educational and historical purposes.” The Fairview School was purchased, moved, renovated, and staffed by Junior League volunteers serving as “School mamas” until 1988 when it was gifted to the Sioux City Community School District.
The Junior League’s support of The Launch Pad Children’s Museum is fairly well-known in the community. “We also built a bus stop shelter and renovated the ‘Hands On!’ gallery at the Art Center,” Meis added. “You might be surprised how many entities we’ve helped with over the years. We try to stay connected with them in some way. Maybe it’s through volunteer service, holding meetings there, or just sharing awareness.”
Funding for projects comes from the operation of their Discovery Shop on West 7th Street as well as an annual golf outing. The fund development committee may also seek grants or other funds to supplement as needed.
In addition to contributing to the community in many ways, participation in the Junior League also provides an opportunity to develop the potential of women in non-profit leadership. “We are trained volunteers,” Meis noted. “We can attend Organizational Development Institutes organized by the Association of Junior Leagues International. They provide training in specific areas such as fundraising, marketing, networking, etc. Within the organization, we learn how boards work, serve on committees, and develop confidence; which helps us become stronger leaders at work and home. Our March meetings are usually smaller groups of women meeting in homes of our sustaining members. It is a great way to really get to know each other.”
“Recently, we decided to align our projects for a few years under the theme of Women Empowerment. The goal is with an underlying theme, we can have even greater impact,” Meis explained. The Junior League of Sioux City has already done work in this area, including providing educational outreach to hotel and motel operators about the signs of human trafficking and how to respond. Projects related to women and children are of great interest. Looking back over the projects through the years, many have supported the empowerment of women and investment in children.
And while the large-scale projects are important impacts of the Junior League of Sioux City, so too is the hands-on volunteer work done in shorter time increments. “Done in a Day,” is a program of Junior League volunteers coming together to accomplish a task for a non-profit in one day. By coming together as a group they can get a lot done quickly. “Some examples of Done in A Day include packing backpacks at the Foodbank and seasonal clean-up at Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center,” noted Meis. “It is a lot of fun to work together with women you might otherwise not have connected with outside of the organization.”
This is what the Junior League ultimately hopes to foster in Siouxland, a like-mindedness for volunteering. With groups giving together, the impact grows and our connections as a community grow, too.
By Dr. Cyndi Hanson