Long History of Helping Throughout Community

Here's a little local trivia: what do Fernside, 4C, Camp Stepping Stones, MindPeace and the Appalachian Festival have in common?

They all bear the stamp of the Junior League of Cincinnati, an organization of women whose volunteer efforts have helped to either start or beef up established non-profit groups that benefit the community.

"Our history has been taking on issues that aren't being addressed," says Susan Shelton, Sustainer Adviser to the board. It's been the mission of the Junior League of Cincinnati since it was founded in 1920. "We always want to meet a community need, and we do a community needs assessment every few years to determine those."

The JLC then adopts a signature project to meet those needs. Each project can take up to three, five or slightly more years to develop and may be rolled out into its own non-profit organization.

One of the JLC's hallmark programs is ProKids, which began in 1980 as a proposal by Darlene Kamine to start a guardian ad litem program to provide court advocates for children in the foster care system.

"The JLC provided the seed funding and all of the volunteers for what became the League's signature project for seven years," says Kamine, Executive Director of the Community Learning Center Institute and longtime member of the Junior League of Cincinnati.

"Because of the strong foundation and long-term commitment of talent and support, ProKids became the leading guardian ad litem program in the country and is stronger than ever after 30 years," she adds. "While still a project of the Junior League of Cincinnati, ProKids also played a leading role in the overhaul of the juvenile justice system in the area of dependency, neglect and abuse in Hamilton County, which became a model for reform at the state and national level."

The Junior League of Cincinnati is part of a network of more than 292 Junior League Organizations in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Great Britain. The Association of Junior League International, founded in 1901, has more than 160,000 members. The Junior League of Cincinnati has 1,000 active and sustaining members, and its membership tends to reflect the society of women, Shelton says.

"The vast majority of active members work outside the home, and there are some stay-at-home mothers as well," Shelton says. "It all depends on what stage of their life they're at; we've had a mother and daughter join at the same time because it worked for both of them at that time."

The payback includes opportunities for friendship, as well as for fulfilling a commitment to volunteering.

"When you work together shoulder-to-shoulder, that's how you make good friends," Shelton says.

For Shelton, JLC involvement even led to a new career.

The high-tech electronics engineer swapped careers to become executive director of MindPeace.

"In five years of working on the project, I became passionate about children's mental health issues," she says. "It's been life changing for me."

Kids Thrive in Kitchen 

Children have a way of letting you know when you're really reaching them.

In the case of the Junior League of Cincinnati's nutrition education program Kids in the Kitchen, the response is unabashed.

"They absolutely love it "” they're excited when they're there," says Vicki Marsala Calonge of the monthly after-school class the Junior League of Cincinnati brings to Cincinnati schools and community outreach events.

Trained volunteers from the Junior League of Cincinnati and the YMCA teach the classes at the Cincinnati schools where the program is offered. There are 12 classes, which are tailored to the seasons in which they are presented.

The curriculum includes three parts: a cooking lesson, in which kids learn food preparation skills and enjoy the resulting healthy entrée; a physical education component giving participants a chance to move during the class; and a nutrition lesson, including take-home materials and recipe cards.

"We're teaching 150 kids a month with hands-on cooking experiences and engaging activities," Calonge says, adding that the after-school timing is beneficial for those few who might not otherwise get much of an evening meal.

While children obviously don't hold a family's food-buying power, they do have influence, particularly after these classes. Their enthusiasm for the subject often fuels a post-class excitement to buy the affordable ingredients so they can reproduce at home the food they just made in class, says Calonge, Vice President of Community Projects for the Junior League of Cincinnati.

The International Association of Junior Leagues launched Kids in the Kitchen in 2006, and the Cincinnati chapter adopted it as a signature project in 2009. The program fits well with the JLC's focus area: strengthening childhood environments.

To that end, Kids in the Kitchen is just one example of "the great work we do in the community," Calonge says of the Junior League of Cincinnati. "Last year we offered over 70 meaningful community service opportunities touching over 15,000 lives."

Given childhood obesity rates, this project is particularly timely, Calonge says. The JLC cites that more than 30 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese and nearly one-third of U.S. children between the ages of 4 and 19 eat fast food every day. By contrast, the recipes made in the Kids in the Kitchen program feature "available and affordable healthy ingredients," she says.

"The goal of Kids in the Kitchen is to empower young children to make healthy lifestyle choices and reverse the growing epidemic of childhood obesity," Calonge says.

The program began in Cincinnati as a single-day event for local children and their parents to learn about healthy eating and exercise activities. The JLC grew the program to reach schools, first at Pleasant Ridge Montessori School, then Riverview East Academy and the Academy of World Languages. League volunteers have also brought this education to community agencies including Every Child Succeeds, the YWCA Mom's Group, Women's Connection, and their clients.

The JLC's "Be Healthy, Be Active" spring event has attracted more than 1,000 families each year since 2010. This year's event, which offers more than 45 activities related to nutrition, food, exercise and crafts, is scheduled for April 13 at the Cintas Center at Xavier University.  

Kitchen Tour Brings Visitors to Heart of the Home 

The Junior League of Cincinnati places its fall fundraiser right in the heart of the home.

The second annual Tour of Kitchens held in November 2012 took visitors to the natural gathering spaces of 10 local homes.

Throughout the tour, guests were treated to chef demonstrations, wine tastings and cookies from Bake Me Home, a local charity created by the Bushman twins and their mother, a Junior League of Cincinnati member. Bake Me Home supports moms and their children in homeless shelters and military members serving overseas, among a growing list of beneficiaries.

Proceeds from the tour are used by the Junior League of Cincinnati to fund volunteer events and signature projects that benefit the community. The tour supports the cornerstone of the JLC's fundraising efforts: sales of its recently published cookbook.

The cookbook was offered for sale in each of the homes on the tour. Cincinnati Seasoned is a collection of more than 180 recipes and photography featuring the Tristate landmarks. Greiwe Interiors displayed its work in kitchens on the tour. Fellow presenting sponsors included Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Bronte Bistro, and The Maids. Kitchens were located in Hyde Park, Indian Hill, Mount Lookout, Columbia-Tusculum and Newport, Ky. 

CinSation Fundraiser Offers Food, Music