From Children in Need to Cultural Affairs, the Junior League has Made an Indelible Impact on the Emerald Coast

A League of Their Own That Benefits All
Howard Robinson
(from left to right) Christina Jeffries|!!| Emerald Coast Junior League president Christie Owens|!!| Adriana Roper|!!| Lisa Cotton|!!| Katie Crowell and Debbie Hollis at the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Niceville during the Back to the Books Bash|!!| one of the League’s annual community outreach projects that provides school supplies to at-risk kids in need.

As the Junior League of the Emerald Coast (JLEC) nears its 50th anniversary in 2015, its passionate members are firmly focused on their mission. With nearly 300 active members, the non-profit organization is committed to achieving its mission of promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community.

Since the organization’s inception, the JLEC has helped dozens of organizations and positively impacted thousands of lives throughout Northwest Florida. League members have volunteered in areas ranging from children in need and historic preservation to environmental concerns and cultural affairs. 

Founded as a non-profit corporation in February 1965 by Barbara Smith, the JLEC hit its stride in the ’80s with a spike in membership and new projects. In 1989, the members proudly opened the F.O.C.U.S. Center, which was renamed the Emerald Coast Science Center in 2001. Another program that was birthed in the ’80s was the “Child Clothing” project. Each year, JLEC partners with the Okaloosa and Walton County school districts to clothe under-privileged children. More than 300 elementary school students are taken to Target, and each child shops for $100 in new clothes, including a new pair of shoes, socks, underwear, shirts and pants. 

“The child clothing project is incredible,” shared JLEC member and 2013 Best of the Emerald Coast Chair Angela Mason. “Many of these children have never owned new clothes. We’ve had children ask if they can keep the shoebox because they’ve never had one. It is such a moving experience.”

The JLEC’s “Done in a Day” program provides a platform for its members to hold food and supply drives, build homes with Habitat for Humanity and volunteer countless hours with non-profit organizations, including Children In Crisis, The Shelter House and The Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, among many others.

“The Junior League has made a significant impact for the kids, our partners and the staff of CAC,” said Julie Hurst, CEO of the Children’s Advocacy Center. “This year, the Junior League is taking over the coordination of our backpack drive and back-to-school bash. They’re making a real difference for the kids.” 

Developing and empowering women to become civic leaders is another important focus for the JLEC, which is part of the global network of 293 Junior Leagues throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

“I’ve come to learn first-hand the impact the Junior League has in developing women to be civic leaders,” said JLEC President Christie Owens. “As a CPA, I am shy and always hated public speaking. Through my involvement, I’ve lost my fear of public speaking. I can truly say the Junior League has changed my life, my outlook and my perspective.”

One of Owens’ top goals for the year is to help develop and empower members. By featuring speakers at monthly meetings and devoting more resources to training, Owens encourages every member to have a voice.  

In order for the JLEC to make such a strong impact, it takes financial resources. One of the best known fundraising programs is the Junior League cookbook “Beach Appetit,” which is filled with 200 recipes from popular local restaurants. Other fundraisers range from the Spring Market and Rock the Road 5K Run to the sale of gift wrap and EC Magazine’s Best of the Emerald Coast event.

“We are honored to be the beneficiary charity for Best of the Emerald Coast,” said Mason. “Our members handle a lot of the back-end work, and all the (ticket) proceeds benefit our mission.” 

The 2013 Best of the Emerald Coast event will be held Oct. 19 at Grand Boulevard at Sandestin. The Saturday evening celebration features readers’ top picks, and attendees are rewarded with samples, coupons and goodies from the area’s top-ranked businesses.

“The best part is knowing that for every ticket purchased, the proceeds benefit the Junior League’s mission and are reinvested in our local community,” said Mason.

For women interested in joining JLEC, the next social will be held in January 2014. Women who want to simply support the mission can sign up as a JLEC volunteer or make a donation. To learn more visit jlec.org.

Categories: Community Causes