Junior League of Boston plans a major-league benefit at the Ritz (3/3/09)

Sandra Miller of The Back Bay Sun / Kimberly Parker
3 March 2009

Kimberly Parker – Director of External Communications
The Junior League of Boston
117 Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02116

March 3, 2009 – Sandra Miller of The Back Bay Sun wrote an article(below) on The Junior League of Boston and our Service and the City Ball fundraiser. Gayle Boudreau, Service and the City Ball Chair, was interviewed for the story.

Maybe you’ve heard of the Junior League, like it’s some sort of mythical service agency of your mother’s era. Actually, it’s a hundred-plus year old agency still thriving.
In fact, it’s planning their annual charitable ball this Saturday at the Ritz Carlton overlooking Boston Common to raise money for some ageless volunteer work for Boston women and children. As they prepare for the fundraising gala, the organizers want you to know: This is not your mother’s Junior League.
“We’re not the ‘Girls with the Pearls’ these days,” said JLB’s External Communications Director Kimberly Parker. “We’ve been trying to get away from that stereotype for a while now.” Parker worked in medical sales for years until she resigned to raise a baby with her husband. “We can be stay-at-home moms, we have attorneys, we have physicians, consultants, teachers, nurses — You name it, we’ve had it. We’re a very well-rounded group of women.”
Gayle Bourdeau, chair of this year’s “Service and the City” ball, had also been initially wary of joining when a friend in Delaware told her about it.
“I didn’t want to do the Muffy-Buffy thing,” she said. So when she moved to Beacon Street in the Back Bay and became a real estate lawyer and wanted to give back to the community as well as make some friends in her new town, she looked into the Junior League. At the informational session, she saw women like herself – smart, professional women.
“There are some stay at home moms, but mostly it’s career women who are giving back,” said Bourdreau, who says she has also made friends in the three years she’s been a member. “We travel on vacation together, I have friends I talk to on a daily basis.”
She started out working with the JLB Arts Program, where group mentors help fifth-grade girls with arts activities at the Boston Renaissance Charter School a few Saturdays a month. “Each month we teach them about a different art, then go on field trips to art museums. We have a cooking month where we take them to Pizzeria Uno’s kitchen,” said Bourdreau. “Our program enables girls to express their unique individuality within a fun, mentoring atmosphere.”
This year, the arts program consisted of 22 Junior League volunteers and 26 girls from the BRCS, she said.
Other volunteer projects this year include Done in a Day, Foster Care Review, JLB Digital Impact, JLB Events, Dress for Success, Germaine Lawrence, Leader Within, and Learning Circles.
Bourdreau since moved onto the ball committee, when she realized that programs such as the arts project need annual funding. The ball is the JLB’s only fundraising event. Last year, they raised $50,000 at Fenway Park; this year, they’ve lowered the cost of the ticket to $150, and all are invited.
This year’s ball theme, “Service and the City,” highlights the leaders, volunteers and supporters of the JLB’s service projects, trainings and community initiatives. There’ll be plenty of auctioned items, and area businesses are still donating items despite the economy. Dress is “formal cocktail attire.”
The JLB celebrated its 100th anniversary a couple of years ago.
It was launched in 1906 by a sewing circle of debutants who made bandages for the Civil War effort. Modeled after the New York Junior League, the Boston chapter was started by young debutante Sarah Lawrence, who wanted Boston’s sewing circles to be more useful, to target the social problems and needs of the greater Boston Metro community.
An annual lecture series was initiated in the Hotel des Tuileries, older members formed committees to place volunteers in social service agencies and to visit the sick and aged. An entertainment committee performed for children and other audiences. A literary committee read books on the period’s social and industrial problems. In 1908, they donated $100 to the Instructive District Nursing Association; in 1916, the Sewing Circle League became the Junior League of Boston, and by spring of 1917, the JLB had contributed $1,800 to five different charities.
During World War II, JLB members assisted with the war efforts, and in the 1960s produced a film to help with public understanding of the mentally challenged, and a book, the “Guide to Boston for the Handicapped.”
In the 1970s it established and managed a child abuse center for the state Welfare Department. In the 1980s and 1990s, the JLB focused its attention on empowering women and promoting the arts. Its Good Grief program helped children to cope with death, a program that was turned over to the Boston University School of Medicine. The JLB also founded WIRE, the Women’s Informational Referral and Educational Service. The program included a van that toured neighborhoods distributing educational materials on area services to women all over the city.
The JLB is now the second-oldest Junior League chapter, and is thriving, with more than 1,200 members. The Junior League today has 293 chapters in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and England, all focused on the health and education of women and children.
Some of its members joined because their mothers and grandmothers were members. Many join after graduating from college. New members complete 24 hours of volunteer service and 16 credit hours of training, then become active members. After 7 years, some choose to become less-active as “Sustaining” members.
Not Parker.
“I would like to continue volunteering a few more years,” said Parker. “I love doing this and I want to stay as active as I can.”
Parker found out about the Junior League through friends and joined the Nashville chapter. When she moved to Boston, she knew that joining the Boston chapter would help her make friends and to get to know the city better.
This month, the JLB opens its membership to new women, until June 1. The nonprofit is open to all women 21 and older, of all races, religions and national origins, anyone who wants to make a commitment to volunteering. Prospective membership meetings in April; the membership year begins in August. This year, over 300 JLB volunteers will contribute more than 7,000 volunteer hours, and they expect to welcome 150 new members in August.
Provisional membership is $350, and to become an active member you must complete 24 hours of project or committee participation and attend 75 percent of committee meetings. There are meetings and cocktail parties, breakfasts and training sessions, selling “Boston Uncommon” cookbooks, and generating $150 in funds, such as purchasing event tickets.
Typically college grads become active members, but in Boston, the average age of active members ranges up into the 40s, so the “Junior” part isn’t so accurate here. The majority of members are second and third generation members. This year’s JLB president, Sarah Calabrese, followed in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.
The 117 Newbury Street JLB headquarters has been there almost since the club started. They own the four floors, leasing out space to Kate Spade. One floor is for offices, another for board meetings, there’s a homey fireplaced living room, and the dining room is lined with portraits of past presidents. The space is available for 50-person events, such as bridal showers and corporate events.
The new cookbook “Boston Uncommon: A culinary journey through Boston’s distinctive neighborhoods,” came out a couple of years ago, updated after more than 10 years with such timeless local recipes as the Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins, Union Oyster House New England Clam Chowder, and Parker House Rolls, as well as contributions from famous local chefs including Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger.
Even though the recipes came from reliable sources, the recipes were then triple-tested before making their way into the cookbook.
Since their initial publication in the 1950s, more than 18 million copies of local Junior League cookbooks have been sold, with proceeds supporting programs that further the League’s mission.
The books are sold at Talbots, Barnes and Noble, and online. Copies are available for $29.95 plus at the Junior League of Boston’s website www.jlb.org.
Tickets are still available for the ball, which will feature live music and dancing, and live and silent auctions for travel packages, restaurants, sports tickets, and signed memorabilia.
“The Service and the City Ball” is a wonderful opportunity for the community and the women of the League to come together and support the projects and volunteer training that have made a difference in neighborhoods across the Greater Boston Area for over 100 years,” said Bourdeau.