State Public Affairs Committees (SPACs) Leveraging Collective Impact on Women and Girls by: Alicia Dunn

As a nonprofit, your primary responsibility is your constituency and cause. To determine how best to meet your responsibility, ask yourself at least two questions: What do our constituencies or causes need the most?  What is the most effective way of meeting these needs?  Sometimes the answer may be to provide a service. Sometimes it may be to lobby to a local government agency or another organization to start, improve, or fund the service. The answer may sometimes be to advocate for a policy change that addresses the root cause of a problem, eliminating the need for a service.  Often, the answer may be a combination all of these things.

[Excerpted from “Make a Difference for Your Cause: Strategies for Nonprofit Engagement in Legislative Advocacy” published by the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest in 2006.]

Many Junior Leagues, in the form of a State Public Affairs Committee (SPACs), have been doing this for years.  The purpose of SPAC is to take action on select state and national issues that support the Leagues’ projects, mission and focus areas; to educate individual Junior League members on issues selected for action by a SPAC; to facilitate communication among the member Junior Leagues in the area of public affairs; to provide training in advocacy skills and strategies; and to act as the representative of the member leagues at the state and national levels.

A recent legislation serves as a reminder of the impact such a SPAC can have.  On December 13th, 2016, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, which including  groundbreaking Postpartum Depression Legislation from Congresswoman Katherine M. Clark, known as the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act.  The bill authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide federal grants to states for the purpose of screening, assessing and treating Postpartum Depression. The grants would allow states to create, improve or maintain programs around maternal mental health and help women who are pregnant or recently gave birth. Representative Clark was inspired to put forth this legislation after meeting with women from the Junior League of Los Angeles (JLLA), Junior League of San Francisco (JLSF), and the Junior League of California State Public Affairs Committee (CalSPAC).

In 2009, CalSPAC learned about maternal mental health disorders through its “There Ought to Be a Law” contest. Junior League of Los Angeles (JLLA) Provisional Britt Bowe submitted the winning idea to CalSPAC’s contest after reading an article in Self Magazine about an Olympic athlete whose twin sister tragically lost her life due to an untreated maternal mental health disorder. The winning submission sought to provide information to mothers/families about perinatal depression at the hospital at time of discharge.

CalSPAC, the statewide advocacy arm of 17 Junior Leagues in California, initially used legislative advocacy to influence the practices of health agencies, to change the stigma around this issue, and to encourage the Legislature to recognize the severity of maternal mental health issues. Over three years, CalSPAC introduced one bill and two resolutions, resulting in ACR 105 (Chaptered 2010) – declaring every May Perinatal Depression Awareness month in California; ACR 53 (Chaptered 2011) – urges health care stakeholders to invest resources to educate women about perinatal depression risk factors and triggers.  Eventually, CalSPAC, as well as several individual Leagues in California, cosponsored H.R.3235, which finally was included in the 21st Century Cures Act signed this month.

While Massachusetts does not have a SPAC currently, the Junior League of Boston has recently launched the Public Awareness Committee, led by Chair Alison Walsh, and committee members Susan Moussalli, Brianne Bartlett, Danielle Dresner, Jennifer Nelson, Kathy O’Brien, Corinne Stemen  and Victoria Weston. The Public Awareness Committee aims to establish a framework to provide members the training they need to conduct advocacy with skill on behalf of our community partners, our focus issues and our mission, and to connect Junior League. The Junior League has an over 100 year history of tackling some of society’s most vexing problems.   CalSPAC is just an example of the power of strategic advocacy to achieve monumental, issue based community impact. The JL Boston Public Awareness committee believes with a collective advocacy effort of members, transformational change is possible.