By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
RUMSON – The Junior League of Monmouth County (JLMC) is celebrating 75 years of helping the community, fostering projects and training women to go on to create and develop their own ways of building better communities.
“There are thousands of women who have gone through the organization’s doors and brought their skills out into the world and are volunteering to make it better,” said Linda Bricker, a 30-year Junior League volunteer.
When 13 women started the JLMC in Red Bank in 1939 they may not have imagined how much the organization would grow over the next decades. Now, the 100-percent volunteer organization has 300 active and sustaining members in Monmouth and Ocean counties and trains its members in various areas including fundraising, volunteer management and community service.
Bricker points out that the leadership roster of various nonprofits and charities in the area are often peppered with Junior League members.
“You would be hard-pressed not to find a Junior-Leaguer involved in almost any charity in the county,” Bricker said. “We train these women to go off – using their volunteer skill set – we launch them away from our organization into the community.”
Bricker, a 30-year member of the Junior League, started her membership in Chicago and then relocated with her family to Rumson in 1998. Having come from a large city league with about 1,000 active members, Bricker was impressed with the work a small league with 100 active members was doing. “It’s all hands-on in a small group,” she said. “I’ve been very impressed to see a small league can be very mighty and they can do all the same level of work a big city league does.”
The list of Junior League projects changes over the years as the league’s focus responds to areas where help is needed.
“We pride ourselves on our flexibility to be there for the needs and the community,” said Bricker, who has served in various roles over the years, including two years as president. “We look at our community work and we re-evaluate every three to five years so we can change (if needed). It’s under the umbrella of improving the lives of families in Monmouth County. We focus on women and children because they seem to need our work and our voices a lot.”
Leadership, and the roles of all the members, change every year. “Everybody from bottom to top … steps into a new role,” Bricker said.
That is the way the league gives each member a skill set that is transferrable; and it gives a broad exposure to members of the various areas, building the skills set. “We’re not afraid of change or taking risks,” Bricker said.
Over the years the league has changed and evolved and Bricker said there’s probably been an increase in women working outside of the home. In looking over records, they learned in the 1960s the league started holding evening – instead of daytime – meetings. “And in some ways, perhaps, women bring a greater skill set (now) because so many are employed. “
Bricker pointed out that learning how to work as a volunteer and then how to manage volunteers is not an easy skill.
“It takes a different mindset,” she said. “The motivation is not a paycheck, so you have got to build an affinity for the cause. You have to build a team.” That involves supporting volunteers and giving them a sense of pride. “They could be spending their time in a variety of ways.
“We are about training volunteers,” she said. “We want to show the spectrum of researching the community needs, putting together a project, motivating volunteers to get involved.”
She points out that, because the league changes its project focus every couple of years and turns projects over to the community, once they’re up and running, the public may not be aware of the Junior League’s impact.
“We’re very proud of the community work in Monmouth County,” she said.
The league was very involved in setting up the Monmouth Day Care Center and Bricker said they are gratified that the center flourishes today. Another pet project is the Children’s Wing at the Monmouth Museum at Brookdale Community College.
She also cites the restoration of the league’s house, a former firehouse that the league bought for $2 decades ago, as a favorite project.
“We have worked so actively to restore the building,” Bricker said. “It has housed volunteers for over a century – first volunteer firemen for years, since 1906 – and then we moved in in 1956.”
When she moved to the area from New York City five years ago, Shannon Dolan, who volunteered in assorted roles since she was a child, was looking to establish a new network of people.
“I was trying to find some way to give back and volunteer,” she said.
“I have a demanding work and travel schedule so it’s hard and organizations want consistency, especially when working with children,” said Dolan, who serves as marketing director for the chapter. “I’d love to be a coach but I can’t commit to be there at 4 in the afternoon every Tuesday. The Junior League gives me the flexibility and allows me to contribute to community.”
Her first placement was in communications where she was able to participate and help the league run, sometimes behind the scenes. “I could write press releases even at midnight. I was able to fit that into my time,” she said.
“For me, providing the flexibility and being part of the community and able to give back” made the Junior League a perfect fit.
Jeannie Sanchez of Brick is a new member and has spent the last year learning the ropes as she begins her role as assistant chair of the fund development committee.
Sanchez, who grew up in Middletown, moved back to the area three years ago. “I was looking for an organization to join, mostly to volunteer, and where I could meet other great women interested in the same things as I am and at same time give back to the community.”
With the Junior League she found both. “There are so many programs and so many events I love that I can be part of these diverse events.”
Sanchez especially enjoys working on causes such as the league’s current focus on empowering young girls to become confident women. “It’s such a great cause, improving self- esteem for young women,” she said.
Another project she enjoyed working on was with Habitat for Humanity. “We worked to help repair someone’s home who had been flooded after Sandy,” Sanchez said. “I found that fulfilling, a group doing it together.
“I really enjoy working with great women – the women that volunteer,” she said. “There’s a great energy. They’re an inspiration.”
The Junior League of Monmouth County’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration will be held on May 31 at Beacon Hill Country Club in Atlantic Highlands.
For more information on tickets or membership, visit www.jlmc.org.