In a competitive market, it is the magic of a secret recipe, product, niche in the market or strong workforce that enables a business to survive and succeed. For more than 99 years, Junior League of Little Rock (JLLR) has served the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers, and in the face of a national outcry, the organization has pivoted to quickly turn and address the emergent needs and issues of its community.
Companies like Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken have garnered great success by creating a secret recipe and protecting it. Junior League, on the other hand, has garnered its success by sharing its recipe with others. When JLLR was originally approached about the need for a location for the arts, it sprang into action. From the efforts of many emerged the Arkansas Arts Center. When there was a need for a summer music event, JLLR partnered with the community to develop Riverfest. When there was a cry to help stop hunger in our community, JLLR stepped in to help form Potluck. Each of these initiatives was formed out of a need and partnership and grew into a self-sustaining nonprofit.
The “secret sauce” for this organization of nearly 1,000 members is its dedicated volunteer workforce of women who are actively seeking to improve the community. With training as a core tenet of Junior League, women learn about fundraising, communication strategies, nonprofit management, social media engagement and development of a volunteer workforce.
Members have the opportunity to cultivate these skills within JLLR through community projects. They also have the opportunity to share their knowledge with others through the Boardwalk initiative where members serve on the boards of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Boys and Girls Club of Central Arkansas, the Volunteers in Public Schools (ViPS) program, the Arkansas Arts Center, Potluck, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Old State House Museum.
The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” JLLR strives to do just that. The organization has advocated on behalf of women and children in the community for nearly a century. These needs have been answered through the establishment of the Gaines House, the Booster and Big Rigs project in conjunction with Children International, the Stuff the Bus Initiative serving six Title III schools with school supplies and the Little Readers Rock initiative resulting in Little Free Libraries throughout the community.
Great work cannot be accomplished alone. It is the partnerships that make a single organization able to maximize its impact. The Little Rock School District and JLLR worked together to form the Volunteers in Public School (ViPS) program. We also partnered together to form the Stuff the Bus initiative, which benefited more than 3,000 students this year alone. Working together, the Little Readers Rock initiative has distributed hundreds of books into the hands of children in those same schools.
Junior League, like so many other organizations, continues to pivot during this time of national crisis but has remained true to its mission: “We are an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.”
When the call came from the Arkansas Health Department’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities requesting masks, JLLR partnered with Ozark Mission Project to donate more than 700 of them. Recognizing the need for representation in children’s literature, JLLR was able to partner with local Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. chapters and Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing to fill their Little Free Libraries with books supporting the representation of characters from diverse backgrounds. In pivoting to address the needs of UALR’s Child International program, JLLR was able to serve the community through school supplies and masks.
Finally, JLLR launched its Nonprofit Board Institute in a virtual format, welcoming community leaders from across the country to learn about diversifying their skills and maximizing their impact in their own community.
Junior League continues to advocate for opportunities for the women and children of the community. While great strides have been made over the last 99 years, there is always more to be done. JLLR welcomes all women who support its mission. If you would like to learn more about the programs of JLLR or support one of its development projects, please visit www.JLLR.org.
Dr. Casey Rockwell, a licensed attorney, is an assistant professor of business law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the current president of Junior League of Little Rock.