This summer, Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ), hired a new football coach. There was a short article in the paper, and it mentioned that TJ had very few resources and even fewer wins. I emailed the coach and asked if I could help. My husband, Jay, is a photographer, so I suggested that he take a team portrait.The more I heard about the obstacles the team faced, the more my Junior League heart ached. Although this school is in my neighborhood, it draws students from the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The team’s lockers hadn’t been replaced in 40 years, and they were too small to hold football equipment! The boys were not allowed into their weight room, because the floor was unsafe! As for the field, it was a dust bowl, with no lights or field house. It’s no wonder that the team hadn’t won a game since 2007. To add insult to injury, the schools had not been re-districted since integration, so TJ was forced to play wealthy county schools, with large, well-funded teams.The boys were eating lunch at 11 a.m. and then not eating again until they went home after practice. My experience chairing the JLR Member Connections Committee kicked in, and I decided to set up a snack calendar for the team. Within days, I had every afternoon covered, with volunteers — many of whom I didn’t know — signing up to bring healthy snacks to feed 50 boys. I was amazed!

Next, I decided that we needed help to provide the team with a pre-game dinner on Fridays. I approached local restaurants, as well as our JLR Sustainer Doers, and with the help of the team mom, we were able to provide meals for all 10 games. After that, one of the Sustainers took the initiative to make adorable Spirit Bags, filled with snacks, for Homecoming and for the last game of the season!

At a boosters meeting, I heard someone say that no donation is too small. While sitting in that meeting, from my phone I posted a note on the JLR’s Facebook page. I mentioned that the team had just had new lockers installed, but that we had to pay for them. The lockers cost $650.00 each, and anyone who paid for one would have a plaque bearing their name on a locker. So I asked my fellow JLR member to consider making a $10 donation towards a locker. I received donations from $10 to much, much more than that. New members, Actives, and Sustainers all joined in, and we raised enough to have a “Junior League of Richmond” locker!

One week when the team mom and I were providing dinner, I was making a list of what I needed from the grocery store. The day before I went shopping, a card arrived in the mail. It was from a woman who was in my New Member class, but now lives in California. She had seen my posts about TJ on Facebook, and she was moved to help. She sent me a check, and the amount was within one dollar of what I spent on food for the team. I was moved to tears by this lovely (and serendipitous!) gesture.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have known where to start in taking on a project like this. I might have been nervous about whether my help would appear condescending. I would not have had the knowledge or the nerve to solicit donations and time from people I didn’t know. And I certainly would not have had such a wonderful network of friends and fellow volunteers on which to rely for help. I joined the League to help, but looking back, I realize that I have gained much more than I have given. I have invested time and treasure into the JLR, but in return, I have new skills, I have more confidence, I have a greater understanding of how to serve our wonderful city, and I have an amazing group of friends.

Written by Cathy Haas for the Junior League of Richmond blog. Article reprinted courtesy of the Junior League of Richmond