The Junior League of Denver has been instrumental in founding, funding and providing volunteers for such Denver institutions and initiatives as the Children's Museum; Mile High Transplant Bank and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.
With 1,700 members—600 active, 200 provisional and 900 sustaining—the Junior League of Denver is one of the largest in the Association of Junior Leagues International, the parent organization for 140,000 members who belong to 291 leagues in four countries.
And, as the JLD marks the 100th anniversary of its founding, it will be celebrating its longstanding commitment to operating in a manner that is relevant to current needs, especially that which reflects inclusivity, social justice and serving the city’s most vulnerable.
Recently, the JLD became one of the first in the nation to open membership to those who identify as female. “It’s one thing to say we embrace diversity and inclusion and quite another to actually do it,” says president Becky Schaub. “We not only want to attract a diverse and inclusive membership, we want to make everyone feel welcome.”
Thus, a prospective member who is transgender is not asked to say so, unless she feels comfortable in so doing.
The JLD also was the first league to hire a lobbyist to advocate on behalf of its public policy issues and the first to establish a foundation that would grow to provide approximately 25 percent of the JLD’s operating budget. The Junior League of Denver Foundation’s seed money came from JLD’s share of the proceeds from Skate 88, the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships that were held at the former McNichols Arena. The JLD hosted the event with the U.S. and Mile High figure skating associations.
In addition to being a source of funds, Schaub adds, the foundation “creates a culture of philanthropy where our members give what they can when they can, in a way that honors their personal giving goals.”
The Junior League of Denver is one of four in Colorado (the Junior Leagues of Fort Collins, Pueblo and Colorado Springs are the others) and is the only one in the state to own its headquarters building. After selling its longtime headquarters at 6300 E. Yale Ave. six years ago, the league now operates out of 1140 Delaware St. in Denver’s Golden Triangle.
Often perceived as an exclusive club for rich “ladies who lunch,” the Junior League worldwide has had its share of prominent members: former first ladies Barbara and Laura Bush, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; child actress Shirley Temple Black; chef Julia Child and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty, just to name a few.
Locally, Christine Benero, president/CEO of Mile High United Way; former Colorado first lady Frances Owens; preservationist Dana Crawford; Faye Tate, vice president of diversity for CoBanks; philanthropists Sue Anschutz-Rodgers, Faye Washington and Arlene Hirschfeld; and Dana Rinderknecht, who helped the Community First Foundation’s Colorado Gives Day become the runaway success it is, are among those who have held membership in the JLD.
“I would not have had the career I have had if it were not for the Junior League,” Benero says. In addition to her post with United Way, Benero, a past national president of the Junior League, has been chief executive officer for Mile High chapter of the American Red Cross, vice president of the National Civic League and has held positions in the administrations of presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Hirschfeld was the first Jewish woman to serve as president of the JLD; Linda Sandoval the first Latina.
Since its founding in 1918 with 66 active and 17 sustaining members, the Junior League of Denver has been instrumental in founding, funding and providing volunteers for such Denver institutions and initiatives as the Children’s Museum; Mile High Transplant Bank (“We’re the ones responsible for getting those hearts on drivers licenses,” notes Nora Heitman, the JLD’s 100th anniversary chair); the Denver Santa Claus Shop; the Women’s Foundation of Colorado; various teen pregnancy prevention programs; the Mile High Holiday Mart; and Girls, Inc. of Metro Denver.
From 1918 to 1930, league members “adopted” a ward of recovering soldiers at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, decorating rooms and solariums and sewing 214 curtains to make the environment more pleasant.
In the mid-1970s, the JLD spent three years working with the Land Use Task Force of the Women’s Environmental Coalition to map and identify flora and fauna along a 1.6-mile section of the Hogback Trail west of Denver. Members also took pictures and crafted a script for a seven-minute slide show that promoted urban trail development, and successfully lobbied the state legislature to allocate $150,000 for trail development.
During its Centennial Year, which began June 1, 2018 and ends May 31, 2019, the league will:
Money raised from events like The Journey, a dinner and auction that has had Leigh Anne Tuohy, author of The Blind Spot, and athletes Martina Navratilova and Shannon Sharpe as the keynote speakers enable the league to develop, expand and train volunteers for its partnerships and projects.
“The beauty of our league is that it gives you what you need in life,” says membership vice president Megan Whelan. “It’s a safe place to try new things, to meet new people, gain new skills and use a different part of your brain.”
“We exist for our members and shift our focus accordingly.”
Mission: The Junior League of Denver, founded in 1918, is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.
Focus: For the past five years, the JLD has centered its work on improving literacy rates and providing access to books for children from birth through third grade in the Denver metro area. In 2016-17, the members hosted 150 reading-centric community events, distributed some 3,600 books, engaged 2,500 children and provided 5,800 volunteer hours to such partner agencies as TutorMate, Reading Partners Colorado, Sewall Child Development Center, One Book 4 Colorado and The Gathering Place.
In September, 2017, the JLD held its first JLD L.U.V.S. (Leaders United in Volunteer Service), where 180 women teamed with eight nonprofits to spend 720 volunteer hours in the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods repairing and painting homes, hosting a fall festival, preparing for a future mural site and setting up healthy cooking classes.
Join: Membership is open to all who are at least 21 years old, identify as females and want to participate in programs and events that leave a positive, lasting impact the community and offer professional, personal and leadership growth. Call 303-692-0270 or visit jld.org.
Joanne Davidson joined the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay in 1974 and transferred her membership to the JLD when she moved to the Mile High City in 1985. She became a sustaining member when she turned 40 and has served as an adviser to the league’s communications committee.
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