One hundred years after its founding, the Junior League of Chattanooga hasn't changed much as an organization. "The focus is the same today as it was in 1917: bringing women together to effect community change," says Laura Ketcham, a league member since 2006 who recently took over as president.
While other women's organizations have popped up in the city since the JLC's founding, Ketcham says the league stands out due to its focus on leadership development and nonprofit service. One of the league's main goals has always been to provide members with volunteer training, which they can apply to their work at any organization. Like the local league's earliest members, today's more than 600 active and sustaining members continue to take those leadership development skills, such as fundraising and networking, and use them as a springboard for working with other nonprofits in the community, and — in today's world — their careers.
Though members aren't required to put in a certain number of volunteer hours, they do need to earn 24 "credits" annually. Volunteering is one way to earn credits. The requirement can also be fulfilled by participating on committees, attending education and training sessions, and working fundraisers.
The league adopted the credit system five years ago, giving members more freedom to create their own experience in lieu of the more specific requirements, such as attending a certain number of meetings, which members had to fulfill in the past.
As the organization approaches the conclusion of its 100th year, Ketcham sees it remaining relevant for the century to come. "I think most members get more out of the experience than they put in," she adds.
As part of the organization's centennial celebration, the JLC is reconnecting throughout the year with past partners through one-day projects involving needs identified by the organizations. JLC volunteers removed invasive plants at Reflection Riding — which the club helped establish in the '70s — painted walls and organized a closet for keeping changes of clothes at Chambliss Center for Children, and is organizing a donation drive this month for items needed at Little Miss Mag day care, which also celebrated its centennial this year.
Decades of Dedication
The JLC changes its focus every five years. The club’s new initiative, “League of Learners,” focuses on education through a partnership with East Lake Elementary. Volunteers spent two days sprucing up the school by painting hallways and completing projects requested by teachers before students returned this year. A Spanish-speaking league member provided translation during registration and will do the same for upcoming parent-teacher conferences. JLC will hold a fall festival at the school this month, and members will incorporate lessons from the Association of Junior Leagues International’s “Kids in the Kitchen” initiative focused on teaching kids about healthy lifestyles.