Junior League celebrates 90 years of service

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“Women Leading By Example” is the theme of the historic Junior League of Pittsburgh, an organization dedicated to promoting voluntarism and nurturing the potential of women to take leadership roles and to improve the surrounding community.

toni.freemanajli.10.19.12
TONI FREEMAN
(Photo by Jennifer Churches Photography)

Since 1922, the women’s organization has been a pillar in the community for accessing and meeting its needs. As they celebrate their 90th anniversary, they are even more committed to continuing their work and the rich legacy of their sisters before them.

“It is incredible to think of the legacy and community impact that the women before us have left,” said Christina Johansen, president of the JLP. “We are just so proud to have been a part of the Pittsburgh community for 90 years. The women who came before us have been trailblazers and it’s inspiring to be entrusted with that legacy.”

During its 90 years, the Junior League has been instrumental in founding some of the city’s most notable institutions, such as Vintage Senior Community Center in East Liberty, the Children’s Museum, the Transplant Recipients International Organization Inc., Three Rivers Adoption Council and many more. They also partner with organizations like KaBOOM!, to build playgrounds for children in underserved areas. They have also given out scholarships and $500,000 in grants in the last 10 years.

“We have always been looking for where there is a need, how to be impactful and how to fill those needs,” said Johansen. “Our goal, whether the next 10, 20 or 90 years is to continue to develop women and our training so that we continue to make that impact on the community.”

Thelma Lovette Morris, the first African-American president of the JLP (1990-1991) and daughter of civil rights leader Thelma Lovette, said the Junior League is an opportunity for women, especially African-American women, to expand one’s horizons and make lifelong friendships. “Our world is bigger than our own African-American community.” Morris, who is now a resident of Arizona, said she is pleased to see how the Pittsburgh league is growing and encourages their continued efforts to the community.

In October the JLP held its 90th anniversary gala at the Children’s Museum and welcomed Toni Freeman, president of the Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. as the keynote speaker.

“We were honored to have her join us. She’s an inspiration as a leader and a woman; and is impressive both in her professional capacity and volunteer capacity,” said Johansen.

“The League has had a long standing commitment to community service and has been nimble as the community’s needs change and are ever changing,” said Freeman. “We are dedicated to community service and the opportunity to work with other women.”

While in years past, the League has lacked African-American participation; Freeman said she has seen more of a presence in recent years. She told of when she joined her local League, how there were only three African-Americans in her class and now there are many more. “There has been a great effort for casting and making this organization diverse,” she said.

Morris said there is often a stereotype associated with the League of it being exclusive, but that it is not true. Like Morris, Johansen, said the League is open to all. “We are committed to diversity of all kinds, except sex. We embrace diversity and it bring us a fresh perspective, helps us to make better decisions and have a greater impact.”

Johansen said the JLP is always looking for new members and will be accepting new members in the summer. Applicants must be at least 21 and have a desire to give back.

Morris says to women, if there is an interest and a want to volunteer and make an impact, then the Junior League is for you.

(For more information on the Junior League of Pittsburgh, call 412-488-9270.)

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