By Rebecca Shireman
In 1966, 14 thoughtful and like-minded women gathered and organized as a service league in the hopes of maximizing their time and skills as volunteers to positively impact the community in which they all lived. This service league formed the foundation of what is now known as the Junior League of South Brevard (JLSB).
That September, 30 more women joined the league and since then the organization has been a driving force in Brevard County through volunteerism, community support, partnerships and civic leadership training. Although civic leadership training may not be what first comes to mind when most people think about the Junior League, the organization has been on the forefront of social reform, identifying problems — like illiteracy, domestic violence, foster children without a safety net — and finding solutions.
While continuing their service with the many civic groups that members were already working with, the founding league membership voted “The Day Care Center” as the League’s first signature project in May of 1967. This began the league’s 50 years of service, financial support and commitment to improving the community. In 1980, the organization officially became the 240th League in the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. and became the Junior League of South Brevard, Inc., joining one of the most powerful volunteer organizations in the world with 291 other leagues throughout the world.
“Believe it or not, the Junior League of South Brevard taught me everything I needed to know to become the headmaster of Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy,” said Cathy Ford. “Before my Junior League experience, I was a classroom teacher. Becoming involved with the league gave me valuable experience in administration. It was there that I learned strategic planning, budgeting and financial forecasting, project management, fundraising, and, of course, leadership.”
Over the years, local members have focused on working to bring art, instrument instruction and history education to Brevard schools, assisted the county commission to develop Erna Nixon Hammock Park, provided aid to children with disabilities, drug education and prevention, literacy, domestic violence and parenting education to name a few. The league was also instrumental in the creation of The Haven and Club Esteem.
In 1986, The Haven, a shelter for abused, abandoned, and neglected children from birth to age six, began as a project of the Junior League of South Brevard. The nine-bed shelter opened in April 1987. In 1999, as the need for foster care continued to grow, The Haven board of directors proposed a project to build and furnish a second home which was accepted by the Junior League. The new home, Haven II, opened in October 2001—all nine beds were filled immediately. The league has continues to remain a close community partner over the years, donating goods and services for the children living in the shelter.
The building of the 3,500 square foot Club Esteem Youth and Family Center was a groundbreaking partnership between the JLSB, the City of Melbourne, Brevard County, and the private sector. MH Williams Construction built the Club Esteem Center; pro bono services of an architect and an attorney were also enlisted. The Club Esteem Youth and Family Center opened its doors in 2003.
Though varied in scope and subject matter, all of the initiatives share an important characteristic: they are designed to meet a need unique to a community that has otherwise been ignored or forgotten, either because of a lack of awareness or a cut in funding.
“The Junior League is the embodiment of Margaret Mead’s famous statement, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” said Dr. Kim Deffebach, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice. “The JLSB provided me with a connection to smart, strong, determined women committed to bettering our community; with leadership and fundraising training; and with role models like league members Susan Hopkins and Marion Collins who inspired me to follow in their footsteps, to dream big, and to make a lasting difference in our community.”
Members learn the ability to identify the most pressing problem facing a community and then craft a solution in collaboration with community partners. Along the way, women learn valuable leadership skills that are used throughout their lives and develop friends that last a lifetime.
“As the league celebrates its 50th year, this is the perfect time to not only reflect on all that we have accomplished but also to look ahead with fresh eyes at what we can do in the next 50,” said JLSB President, Lindsay Sanger. “I am truly grateful and humbled to the women of our great community for their commitment to the JLSB and the proven 50 year history that the JLSB has as the catalyst of change for our community and women leadership.”
JLSB’s current community impact statement is “Improving Children’s Health Through Nutrition and Physical Activity.” Projects like Fueling Kids and Kids in the Kitchen bring awareness and education to children about the importance of healthy living and supply children with healthy food options.
A few of the areas in which Junior League members acquire skills or knowledge:
- Organizational development
- Community needs assessment
- Fund development
- Strategic planning
Junior League of South Brevard
1501 Avocado Avenue, Suite 2 | Melbourne
321-610-8950 | JLSB.net