Junior League Of Lake Charles

admin Friday, December 29, 2023 Comments Off on Junior League Of Lake Charles
Junior League Of Lake Charles

You’re probably familiar with Mistletoe and Moss, but what do you know about the organization behind it? The Junior League of Lake Charles has touched almost every corner of our community. The first meeting was on Nov. 22, 1933, between 11 women in their 20s; none had a background in civic work. 

It was the middle of the Great Depression and homelessness, hunger and poverty were plaguing the country. At their first meeting the group of women compiled a list of 85 names — women they thought might be interested in helping. Lake Charles didn’t have the population necessary to qualify for official Junior League status, so they called themselves (after much debate) the Junior Welfare League. The Junior League, a global organization that began in 1901 in New York City, now has 295 chapters across the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico.

Ninety years ago, these Lake Charles women were pioneers. Women had only gained the right to vote 13 years before and were still being referred to as Mrs. Husband’s Name. They were bold enough, and slightly idealistic enough, to think they could make an impact. 

The financial backbone of the league was a $1,000 donation from a businessman who remains anonymous. Without the mystery man’s financial support, which is comparable to $24,000 today, who knows what would’ve happened to the group.

“I know when most people think of the Junior League they think it’s a good networking opportunity, and it is. But beyond that we are a group of women committed to volunteerism,” says Carrie LaFargue, president. The league’s main areas of focus are healthy children, literacy and community outreach.

The league has established several non-profit organizations throughout the years: Children’s Museum, Family and Youth Counseling Agency, Harbour House, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the Black Heritage Gallery at Historic City Hall, Imperial Calcasieu Museum, the Literacy Council, the Nearly New Shop, Lake Charles Symphony, Arts and Humanities Council and many more. The League establishes and runs these organizations until they can sustain themselves. Should any of its legacy projects run into trouble, it’ll step in and get the organization on its feet.

New members, during their first year, are expected to work together on a provisional project. “The provisional project in my first year was re-doing the counseling room at Harbour house. We wanted the room to be more inviting to children, so we bought new bedding and new games, and we painted. We completely redid the room,” says 90th anniversary chair Kari Casey. Casey says the provisional projects are formative for new members. “They teach members how to organize, form and fill leadership roles and make an impact.”

Last year, the league was approached by a school seeking new shoes for their students. Many of the students had shoes that were too small or that had holes in them. “Shoes are a big thing for students,” says Casey. “Other kids notice, and it can affect learning.” 

The league researched, raised funds and purchased several tubs of shoes. Members showed up at the school and fit each student with a new pair of shoes as part of their KICS (Kids In Cool Shoes) program. 

“Those are the types of things we do that you don’t hear as much about. Fundraising events like Mistletoe & Moss are fun, but this is the kind of work we do most as league members. It’s incredibly rewarding,” says LaFargue. 

Mistletoe & Moss is one of three annual fundraising events. In its 10th year, Mistletoe & Moss raised $109,000, allowing for the funding and staffing of five different community projects.

“We’re talking a lot about what we do and how we give, but it’s not all give. We receive leadership training and professional and personal development through our work in the league.” 

Part of the group’s efficiency can be attributed to the committees they form and their methods of organizing. 

The president-elect trains under the standing president for an entire year. Once the new president steps into her role, the past president takes a year-long sabbatical. This tradition ensures a smooth transition of power. “The sabbatical means members aren’t inadvertently coming to the previous president to answer questions. It gives the new president the space to find her own way and methods.”

In the past, perception of Junior League members has been that of a pearl wearing, well-to-do woman. LaFargue says the community is starting to see members more accurately now. Most members are juggling a career and family as well as their responsibilities within the league. LaFargue says this is a recent shift she’s observed since she first joined in 2016 when, “the majority of members were mothers who stayed home to raise children. Our founding members are probably rolling over in their graves at the way we come dressed to meetings now.”

LaFargue says league members were better dressed back then, but they’ve always been scrappy, willing to do whatever was needed to help the community. She recounts a group of members that brought children to a Westlake tonsil removal clinic by flat bottom boat. “They may have been wearing pearls while they did it, but they were getting things done.” Another change in the league has been a shift towards a more diverse group of women. “When you look back at old photos all of the women look the same, but we’re a more diversified group now.”

LaFargue says meaningful community impact is front of mind for members. In 2020, after a year of COVID-19 and natural disasters, members organized blood drives, passed out candy for Halloween, handed out turkeys for Thanksgiving and gave out trees and decorations for Christmas. 

At every meeting members pray, “Grant us the joy of filling someone’s need.” For more information on the Junior League of Lake Charles visit jllc.net.

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