Helping the Local Community for 65 Years
This year marks the 65th anniversary of that venerable, but hardly hidebound, local institution: the Junior League of Northern Westchester (JLNW).
Way back in 1971, the organization helped establish the Mount Kisco Child Care Center. In the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, the group’s focus was on domestic violence and in the early 2000’s, hunger and childhood obesity; the JLNW partnered for a time with the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry too. Now, there’s a focus on human trafficking and the safety of girls and women, as well as raising children in a digital age – and the group also runs an annual Holiday Sharing Drive.
“The Junior League is a community service organization that looks to identify critical needs in our community and develops unique ways to find solutions,” Clara Sharp, president elect of the Junior League of Northern Westchester, said.
To combat human trafficking–specifically the commercial sexual exploitation of children–the league has had a connection for the past several years with The Gateways Program, which is part of the JCCA Cottage Schools in Pleasantville.
Last month the group presented a well-attended program called Join the Conversation: Protecting Children in a Hyper Digital Age at the Bedford Playhouse. Liz Repking, the founder of Cyber Safety Consulting spoke. Topics discussed included sexting, gaming safety, restrictions and settings, and popular apps to use safely.
The Holiday Sharing Drive, started in 1980, is a favorite initiative of Sharp’s. “It’s really, truly a heart-warming experience,” she said. About ten social service agencies help
the league by identifying around 200 families who could use help at holiday time. Then, all members of each family including the adults write a list of what they need and/or desire to receive. “We match these families with people in the community,” Sharp said. Then, the gifts are purchased, readied and are packaged in bins and gathered in the gym of the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester for distribution.
Armonk resident Trina Fontaine is also enthusiastic about the Holiday Sharing Drive. “The thing that got me hooked in the beginning was that (the junior league) had a number of initiatives going with other non-profits,” she said, adding that her church now adopts four families during the drive. But the trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation is the cause that’s “near and dear” to her heart, she said. “It really disgusts me and it shouldn’t happen here” in Westchester.
These ideas, Sharp said, come from both members and groups with which the Junior League has formed partnerships, like Northern Westchester Hospital. “It’s a two-pronged approach,” she said. “It’s not so much a formal process, but it’s something that evolves over time.”
Often, after they take off, Junior League projects wind up in the hands of others.
“We have a strong history of introducing programming that can be released back into the community,” Sharp said. “After a certain number of years, it becomes self-sustaining and that’s truly what we consider a success story.” For example, Hope’s Door, formerly known as the Northern Westchester Shelter, was started by the Junior League and is now completely independent.
“To be in the junior league is to be in a group of women who share your desire to make a difference in your community,” Sharp said. A popular misconception is that the junior league is a group of women who don’t work outside the home. Sharp works full-time as a fundraiser for a medical school, and said she is by no means the only member who has a career. “It’s women of all demographics.”
Emily Hunt, president of the JLNW, stated, “As a mother of daughters, I am especially proud of all the work we have done and continue to do to advance women and girls in our community, to ensure their safety and security and provide them, as adults, an outlet to give back to the community.”
Sharp joined in 2013, when she moved to Chappaqua, at the suggestion of her mother-in-law, a longtime member and past president herself. She said it was “a nice way to meet like-minded women,” Sharp said.
Joining the Junior League is easy, Sharp said: All you have to do is contact the group and say you want to join. In the past, joining was a more formal process and each new member needed a sponsor.
While the group prefers to admit new members twice a year so the women coming in have a greater chance to get to know other new members, really, Sharp said, new members can join any time. “As the times have changed, so have our policies and procedures,” Sharp said. “If you want to make a difference, we want you to join.”
Women from Chappaqua, Armonk, Pleasantville, Bedford, Mount Kisco, Pound Ridge, Briarcliff and more are members, meeting once a month, every third Tuesday, in order to move forward on projects and initiatives to improve the community.