At The Junior League, we spend a lot of time thinking about the power of volunteer groups-for us, 160,000 members in 292 Leagues in four countries. But sometimes, it’s awe-inspiring to look at what one a single determined woman can do.
Take a member of the Junior League of Columbia, SC. In 2005, as the mother of a 4-year-old boy in South Carolina recently diagnosed with severe autism, she took up the challenge – for her own family and many others – to get her medical insurance company to cover the cost of treatments for her son, Ryan. Lacking funds to hire a professional lobbyist, Lorri assembled a small group of friends and fellow advocates called the Ryan’s Law Grassroots Gang that personally lobbied South Carolina legislators through visits and letter-writing campaigns. Successful at passing a bill in 2007, only to see it vetoed by Governor Mark Sanford, Lorri and the other members of the Ryan’s Law Grassroots Gang again lobbied the legislature on the last day of the legislative session and Ryan’s Law became law in South Carolina.
While Ryan’s Law was not officially a Junior League initiative, many League members did lend their support by contacting their local legislators to ask them to sponsor the bill, which complements The Junior League’s long history of working to better health, living and educational conditions for women, children and families, including:
- With the goal of stemming the tide of high school drop outs by providing intervention when it counts, during the middle school years, the Junior League of Denver advocated for the Healthy Choices Dropout Prevention Program, sponsored by Colorado State Senator, Suzanne Williams. The League undertook the task of finding research that supported the passing of the bill, identified other major nonprofits and medical groups to sign on in support and lobbied Colorado State Senators. The bill was successfully passed by the Colorado State Legislature and recently signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter this past May.
- On March 20, The Healthy Mothers’ Act of 2009, was passed by the California Assembly Health Committee. The bill seeks to expand access to create awareness of the importance of perinatal and post-partum mental health screening and provide for an expansion of mental health resources for mothers. The bill was introduced into the California State assembly by the State Public Affairs Committee (SPAC) of the Junior Leagues of California and Assemblyman Pedro Nava of California’s 35th District.
- Junior Leagues began responding to the problem of domestic violence in the 1970s, a problem that until that time was considered a private, family matter. Junior Leagues, such the Bronxville League, provided support to battered spouses guiding them through the court and social service systems. Other Leagues, such as Westchester, founded and supported shelters for battered women and their children. With growing awareness of the issue throughout the 1980s and Leagues stepping in to provide solutions, Leagues would be called to testify before local, state and federal panels looking and share their experiences and expertise. Inevitably, with support from Junior Leagues and various other nonprofit advocacy organizations, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), would be drafted by then Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, to be included in the 1994 Crime Bill. Signed into law by then President Clinton, the VAWA was considered a major breakthrough for women’s civil rights.
- Recognizing the importance of adequate nutrition for successful school performance, the Junior League of Brooklyn successfully petitioned the New York Board of Education to provide school lunches to public school students in 1915. The school lunch program would subsequently provide the model for the National School Lunch Program signed into law in 1946.
- The Junior League of St. Louis, was among the countless women’s groups that advocated for women’s suffrage during the early twentieth century. In fact, advocating for women’s suffrage was one of the first major outreach projects for the League, which was founded in 1914.