On a brisk October morning, Georgia Gier was knee deep in dirt and sand as she screwed a bolt onto a steel beam. Gier, an East Meadow high school teacher, and two dozen fellow members of The Junior League of Long Island donned hard hats and work gloves while constructing a playground for The Hagedorn Little Village School in Seaford. The Junior League supplied the equipment, woman power and foresight to build the playground, which is now used daily by more than 140 young children with special needs involving motor skills, balance and other disabilities.
“It’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish when you get a bunch of determined women together,” Gier remarked as she proudly inspected her work.
Today’s Junior League is a far cry from the white glove society of years ago. The Junior League of Long Island’s members are now more likely to be constructing playgrounds or installing a computer center for a Bay Shore teen center than flower arranging.
Based in Roslyn Village, the Junior League is a nonprofit organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving Long Island communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Membership is open to all Long Island women who are older than age 21.
President Shelley Wojtkiewicz discovered the Junior League when she moved to Long Island from Louisiana in 2005. “Not knowing anyone in a place as large as Long Island can be isolating,” she says. “I was looking for a way to become involved in the community and meet new people. The Junior League is a very welcoming organization, and I’ve made some wonderful friends here.”
Wojtkiewicz learned that there was an added bonus to her Junior League membership. “As I was meeting people and helping out on community projects, I was developing workplace skills, such as budgeting, proposal writing, project development and public speaking,” she notes. “The Junior League offers women a wonderful opportunity for networking and leadership training.”
In this tough job market, these benefits can be a real plus for the recent college graduate as well as the stay-at-home mom who wants to keep her work skills sharp while she takes some time off to raise her children.
Wojtkiewicz is in good company. Following its inception in 1901 in New York City, the Junior League has attracted such notable women as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Laura Bush; and actress Katherine Hepburn. Today, the organization includes nearly 300 membership leagues in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
The Long Island chapter was established in 1951. From that time on, it has been instrumental in many local community projects. This year, the Junior League is focusing on initiatives that improve the health and well-being of women and children on Long Island, like the program Kids in the Kitchen. Successfully reaching hundreds of Long Island children during the past four years, Kids in the Kitchen is an interactive event that teaches kids the benefits of proper nutrition and exercise while empowering them to adopt healthy lifestyles. Kids in the Kitchen is a signature project of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and it has expanded to more than 200 Junior Leagues across four countries.
Another project close to members’ hearts is First Step, which helps Long Island women in transitional homes reenter the work force by taking the “first step” and obtaining professional clothing for interviews and beyond. Participants are referred from local social service agencies, shelters and food pantries. At an event facilitated by Junior League members, the women are assisted with selecting appropriate clothing for their careers. Participants also receive lunch, manicures and childcare for the day at no cost.
Proceeds from the Junior League’s upscale Roslyn Village Thrift Shop help support the organization’s many community projects. Considered by shoppers to be Long Island’s hidden treasure, the Thrift Shop has two floors of vintage and unique items, including clothing, accessories and housewares, at attractive prices. The Thrift Shop recently implemented a Featured Artist event every month to promote the talents of local artisans.
Since its foundation, The Junior League of Long Island has been at the forefront of identifying and fulfilling community needs. Each month, the League invites community leaders to speak about pressing issues affecting women and children on Long Island. Similar to how this year the organization is focusing on health and well-being, the Junior League plans to develop more issue-based projects in the future. The Junior League has been the driving force behind the kinds of initiatives that make Long Island a healthier, more vital place to live.