When I was old enough to know better, but still too young to question everything, I learned about the Junior League. Basically, that it was a club you joined if you were still single after college and needed to find a good man. Wealthy, ivy league educated, with a nice mother…or at least one who could afford the retirement home you’d dump her in if she got too mouthy.
So, when my editor threw me my next assignment, ‘upcoming events with the Junior League of Collin County,’ I was less than enthused. I mean, I’d just filed stories about domestic violence shelters, how to survive an active shooter, ways to prevent human trafficking…I’m basically the Christiane Amanpour of the online social lifestyle community- right?
Girls with Pearls? Or Something More…
In the parking lot of the JLCC headquarters, I heave a tacky sigh, and my body collapses unto the steering wheel. “I don't wanna,” I whine slowly and haul myself out of my mini-van. I notice there aren’t as many luxury cars and SUVs than I would have expected. “There must be more parking in the back,” I mutter.
I’m scheduled to arrive after one of their various member meetings. I hit the doorbell and wait. I peer in, and I don’t spy anyone. A few moments pass by, and I hit the bell again; Now I’m wondering just how rowdy this meeting has to be for no one to hear it? But I mean, I get it- Human Rights gets me hype, so maybe discussing the upcoming social calendar is their Serpico?
Almost immediately thereafter, the door is thrust open and I meet a very apologetic, and very enthusiastic, woman who warmly shuffles me inside. The lobby is just what I imagined: Beautifully appointed, professional, but also, almost…Romantic. From the outside, the building looks professional and ordinary, but inside, it’s like an Italian villa.
I’m impressed, but not surprised; Certainly women of means and privilege wouldn’t meet in anything less?
I’m awkwardly fishing in my bag for a few of my business cards (an act I’m chiding myself for not doing already- like, perhaps when I was groaning about having to ring a bell more than once?) when a sleek, slender woman, with the most fantastic red spiky hair approaches me.
I meet Emily Moore (Communications VP) for the first time in person, and I’m instantly impressed with her. She has a great handshake, is sharply dressed, and did I mention the cool hair? I can tell she’s trying not to laugh because my face doesn’t play nice and I’m obviously a little taken aback. Did I think she’d be wearing a petticoat and swaying like a drunk Faye Dunaway?
She tells me they’ve just wrapped up their meeting, and Shannon Kmak (the President) is on her way. Not two seconds later, We’re approached by a bubbly woman with long blonde tresses and bold confidence that emits from her like a tuning fork. I don’t even know her name yet, but I know in my heart I want to drink at least 10 martinis with her.
Justine Sweeney handles PR for JLCC through her company In The Community. We quickly begin chatting about a place for a good photo op for Shannon. I inquire about the heavily decorated wall (that I’ve internally nicknamed the ‘wall of women’) and I notice that none of which are posing with a toy poodle, or vines of conflict diamonds, so my curiosity is totally peaked.
Before I could get a closer look, Emily waves over my shoulder, and I’m assuming it’s at Madame President of the JLCC.
You know during the Obama administration when First Lady Michelle Obama would do television appearances, and it almost looked like she was floating? And her smile was so warm, and her posture was so perfect, you didn’t know whether to applaud, bow, or hug her?
I’m not even kidding right now, y’all: When Shannon Kmak glided toward me, in her classic black pumps and a smile that could rival a thousand suns, I was awestruck. I can’t explain it. Some people truly do just give out good vibes.
She introduces herself and she’s just as poised, kind, and intelligent, as her aura presents her to be. So, I’m floored when, like normal clumsy me, she’s nervous about posing for this photo. The super chic president of the fancy ladies club is worried about the camera adding ten pounds? And my instincts tell me it’s not vanity, but pride that drives her concern- she wants to do right by all these women, and the mission the JLCC represents.
It’s around this time that I start to feel like a complete jerk. Every one of my pre-judgments up and until this point has been wrong.
So when she asks if in lieu of focusing on just their upcoming social events, “Fundraisers are to fund things that we're doing, maybe we talk about where that money is going?” I basically blacked out.
Ok- I didn’t faint, but I lost any real composure or dignity I had left when I nearly leaped out of my skin and replied, “Yes! Of course!! I would love, LITERALLY, nothing more.”
We find a place to sit, and Shannon opens up about who they are…
The JLCC is comprised of visionary women who are the agents of change in our community. On any given day, our members are providing job readiness training to survivors of domestic violence, offering life-skills training to young adults who have aged out of foster care, or mentoring first-time juvenile offenders currently serving probation. Each of our members plays an important role in shaping the future of the community in which we live.
At this point, I just come clean, “I’m completely shocked. And very ashamed to admit, I thought the junior league was just a thing desperate single girls, rich widows, and spinsters did.”
Emily, Justine, and Shannon smile warmly and nod. They're a team of class acts that have every right to smack me clean in the back of the head, but they woefully admit that this is an image problem they have but are working to change the dialogue, and bring awareness to their real purpose and the work they do within, and for, our community.
One program they’re eager to tell me about is JuMP (Juvenile Mentoring Program).
They begin at the beginning: In 1976, thirteen brave and bold women in decided to form a service league in this area. Shortly thereafter, after uncovering a serious moral and civic problem whereby the city of McKinney was forced to place children in adult prisons due to a lack of an appropriate facility, they decided one of their first initiatives would be to help fund and create a juvenile detention center.
Yep, no time for classes with Emily Post. This would NOT be your typical Junior League. And now I’m annoyed I didn’t pay more attention to the ‘wall of women.’ I’d really like to see who these daring dames are.
Fast forward to 1984, where after 8 long years of hard work and dedication, a fan of their efforts dropped by to help with the ribbon cutting of the Juvenile Detention Center McKinney…
*Spit take. “You’re kidding?” I exclaim as I fan-girl out.
But that’s not what really got to me.
Years later, former JLCC President Marina De La Garza, inspired by what she witnessed as an attorney in the juvenile justice system, went back to that original center to ask if the JLCC could help to create a leadership and mentoring program for first-time, non-violent offenders as part of their probation.
Note to self: ‘wall of women,’ find Marina.
De La Garza and the ladies of the JLCC collaborated with experts to create a six month leadership course, the first of it’s kind in the US. Successfully into it’s 5th year, JuMP offers a unique, concentrated curriculum on teen-focused topics such as:
- Establishing healthy relationships
- Life Skills Training
- Managing Negative Emotions
- Positive Decision Making
- Self-Esteem Building
- Social Media/Media Awareness
Writing the book wasn’t all they did, members of the JLCC are actually the mentors and facilitators of the program.
At this point, I’m already tingling, but what Shannon tells me next gave me chills
100% of the children whom have graduated (JuMP) have successfully completed probation, and have a 93% non-recidivism rate.
She also tells me a story about how one of their members ran into a graduate of the program years later, and they told them what an impact it had on them. How it totally changed the trajectory of their life, and how grateful they were…and of course, now we’re all weeping.
Justine hands me a copy of Legends & Legacies (A Junior League of Collin County Publication) which is a kind of yearbook of who they are and what they do.
I begin to flip through it, and I’m growing anxious because it’s just pages and pages of amazing initiatives and programs that they and their peers create, manage, and execute, and I’ve only discussed one!
I take a deep breath. I notice we’ve been talking for almost an hour, and we’ve all got to get going, and it feels like I’ve just been on an episode of ‘The West Wing’ and I’ve been totally schooled by these incredible crusaders.
I bashfully thank them, and reiterate how erroneous my presumptions were, and how impressed and humbled I am by their good works. They're far too decent and dignified hold any grudges, of course, and I hug each one of them like we’re saying goodbye at an airport.
I make my way out the front door and feel enlightened. Illuminated. I’m still reeling from discovering how foolish and downright wrong I was about them.
I throw my bag on the passenger seat and I’m already running late to pick up my kids, but I can’t help but quickly thumb through the first few pages of Legends & Legacies, “I wonder where it talks about recruitment…” I whisper.
You can find more information about the Junior League of Collin County here.
Want to help support the vast number of initiatives and programs? Trinkets to Treasures is coming up April 6th.