Good question. And it’s one that the Junior League of Atlanta (JLA) is embracing head on.

It started out innocently enough. League leadership, in beginning to think about ways to mark the 100th anniversary of JLA’s founding in 1916, wanted to develop a signature project to celebrate its centenary.

They could have thought small. They didn’t.

Here are the unpleasant facts. Because of its size, location, proximity to major interstates and a major airport, and major sporting events, Atlanta is a hub for human trafficking, particularly the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

When JLA’s League Initiative Committee (LIC) began researching possible overlooked or underserved community needs four years ago by interviewing leaders across Atlanta’s nonprofit and for-profit worlds, a lot of issues emerged. But one topic seemed to come up again and again—human trafficking. It also became clear that no one group in Atlanta was involved, from the ground up, in creating awareness of the problem and working to develop collaboration among groups impacted by the issue.

Intrigued by the idea – and the potential for demonstrating true civic leadership in dealing with the problem—the LIC had to make sure that JLA membership would embrace it enthusiastically. After all, some may not view the commercial sexual exploitation of children as a traditional Junior League project. But members did embrace it, given what many already knew and were learning about the scope of the problem in their city.

What happened after that provides a fascinating case study on the civic leadership role that Leagues have traditionally provided in their communities on a wide variety of issues.

First, JLA partnered with other local nonprofits focused on human trafficking and held a roundtable discussion so that each organization could learn what other nonprofits were already doing and could collaborate to develop solutions.

As its next step, JLA advocated for passage of a law, Georgia Senate Bill 69, that would require certain groups of individuals in frequent contact with children (like school teachers, police, etc.) to report any evidence that a child might be the victim of commercial sexual exploitation. Because of the JLA’s advocacy work, the Governor’s office asked the JLA to partner with it to develop a training module to teach police and other first responders about the signs of this sexual exploitation.

Last year, 20 JLA members were trained to be able to go out into the community to train these first responders. JLA leadership is hoping to double the number of members trained this year and then make the project a formal placement.

As if that was not enough, the League is also working to generate awareness of a hotline created by state government to put victims of trafficking in touch with services that can help them. JLA plans to launch ads promoting the hotline in Atlanta’s public bus shelters by October and is hoping to find the money to place the ads on billboards throughout Atlanta. The JLA plans to host a business breakfast this fall to generate awareness of the issue among leaders of the Atlanta business community and to launch the ad campaign.

And all this as part of a project that is planned to grow and expand over the next 10 years in anticipation of JLA’s 100th birthday party in 2016.

Big idea. Big results.