Since its inception in 1923, JLC has raised and awarded millions of dollars to meet local needs in areas ranging from education to child abuse to feeding the homeless. In the past decade alone, the League has trained 2,500 community service volunteers.
The Junior League of Charleston has shown its commitment to the principle of voluntarism from the start in the variety of projects it has undertaken. With a willing membership dedicated to returning to the community all the money raised in the community, the League has become a well-respected organization in the Charleston area.
The first members of the League worked where they felt they were the most needed. For the first two years of its existence the League placed volunteers in the Day Nursery Kindergarten, the Bagging Factory Lunch Room, the Roper Children’s Ward, and the Associated Charities Motor Corps.
While there were no position statements to act as guidelines for projects, League energies were from the beginning spent in certain areas. From 1922-30, marionette shows were performed for children. In 1947 these shows were revived and performed at various locations, among them the Charleston Museum. Puppet workshops were led by League members and in 1955-56, the League was presented an award by the Museum Board.
Middleton Gardens Tearoom was a project in 1928. In 1931 the Rolling Library at Roper Hospital was begun and continued until 1952.
In 1937 the League developed the concept of turning established projects over to community agencies, thus allowing the League energies to be devoted to answering other needs of the area. The first such project was the Junior League Milk Station. In 1937 weekly art classes were established at the Gibbes Art Gallery and were incorporated into their program in 1944. The Child Guidance Bureau began in 1939 and evolved into the Charleston Child Welfare Council whose purpose was to coordinate children’s agencies. This project was turned over to the public schools in 1945. League members made an index of women volunteers in Charleston in 1941. Taken over by the Welfare Council, this index became the Civilian Defense Volunteer Organization during World War II. The war focused the need for volunteers, and League members rallied around troops stationed in the area and volunteered at Stark General Hospital.
Mention of the Community Arts Committee first appears in 1947. That year the committee published and distributed a historical leaflet, “Our Charleston”, to area school children. The leaflet series was completed in 1951; and in 1952, with the leaflets as background information, local seventh graders were given tours of the Gibbes.
In 1947, League members concentrated their efforts on one community project, the Junior League School of Speech Correction. This was the first such school in the state where children with all types of speech defects were accepted. In 1955 the school was incorporated and a community board formed. In 1963, the name was changed to the Charleston Speech and Hearing Clinic and became a United Fund Agency. The League has continued its support, and members continue to sit on the board.
At the Annual Meeting in May, 1991, the Junior League of Charleston received the Distinguished Service Award of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) for the League’s founding of the Charleston Speech and Hearing Center and its continuous support since 1947. The award drew letters of congratulations from First Lady Barbara Bush, both U.S. State Senators and the Governor.
Members began volunteering again at Roper Hospital in 1954 and, joined by other volunteers, the Roper Hospital Auxiliary was formed in 1958. In 1957, League members worked with the Gibbes to survey historic resources in Charleston. A much needed Parent-Youth Association was sponsored by the League in 1960-61. A forerunner of the Violence on View Task Force, this association helped establish a motion picture rating system with the Pastime Amusement Company. The group was dissolved in 1964. In 1962-63 members began the Lively Arts Brochure and Calendar. This developed into weekly TV appearances to outline cultural events with some attention being given to League efforts outside the cultural field as well.
Horizon House, a facility for Charleston’s troubled youth, opened in 1964 and in 1966 was established as a full community agency supported jointly by the United Community Services and Charleston County. In 1985 the League established an endowment fund for Horizon House.
Across the Cobblestones, a guidebook to Charleston compiled by the League, was published in 1965. The book was turned over to the Historic Charleston Foundation as a long-range revenue source for them. Also in 1965 a docent program for guiding visitors through the Gibbes Art Gallery was begun. This project was expanded to include taking slides of the Gibbes exhibits into the schools.
To help celebrate South Carolina’s Tricentennial in 1970 the League sponsored with the South Carolina Historical Society a series of lectures on South Carolina history. Members helped with the convention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation held in Charleston and sponsored a performance of the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Charleston Civic Ballet. Volunteer and monetary support went to the Charleston Nursery and Day Care Center.
In 1973-74 the League sponsored an Urban Affairs course with the Political Science Department at the College of Charleston. With the United Community Services, the League sponsored a Voluntary Action Center (VAC) in 1974. The League continued its support until 1976 when VAC became fully supported by the United Community Services. A League member continues to sit on its board. A project to restore the library of the Charleston Museum was begun in September 1974, and though completed within its three year time frame, support continued until 1979.
In 1975 and again in 1976 and 1977, the League sponsored the Junior League Famous Artist Series, a series of five musical shows presented at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. In 1976, the League supported the Tricounty Arts Council with a contribution to the Bicentennial Arts Festival and participated in AJL’s Child Advocacy Survey. As an outgrowth of this survey, the League voted in 1977 to form the Comprehensive Emergency Services (CES) for Charleston County. After several years of study and surveys by the League’s Child Advocacy Committee, a working system was developed. In 1980 a Board of Directors was established, and $8000 was given by the League as seed money.
Major projects for 1980-81 were the continued support of the Charleston Speech and Hearing Clinic, the Charleston Museum, and CES. A speakers bureau was developed for Hospice, “Music in the Schools” was introduced with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, a study was begun with Florence Crittenton to explore the development of a day school program, and “Beginnings”, a support program for families with low birth weight infants, was started. 1982-83 saw continuation of such projects as CES, Hospice and Beginnings and the introduction of “I’m Special”, a program to raise the self-esteem of young people in the 4th grade which continued for several years.
A new project, the Low Vision Book Fair sponsored with Baker Hospital, was introduced in 1983 and continued until 1989. Hospice, the Charleston Museum, and CES continued to receive League support. Housewise/Streetwise was a project from 1984-87. The Charleston Museum Discovery Room and the Family Manual for the Parents Council of Charleston were new projects in 1984.
The League year 1986-87 saw the introduction of the new projects Children at Risk (CAR), the Carolina Youth Development Center (CYDC) and the Business Education Partnership sponsored with the Charleston County School System and the Trident Chamber of Commerce.
Woman to Woman, a three year program to address the problem of alcoholism in women was begun in 1987. Sarah Johnson and Friends youth concerts began that same year and continued until 1989. Mothers and Company, a program to help adolescent mothers with parenting skills, was supported in 1987-88. Teen Outreach Program, an AJLI program on adolescent pregnancy, was introduced that same year. For 1988-89, the membership added to these ongoing projects Youth Service Charleston, a program designed to teach high school students the value of voluntarism.
The 1989-90 year was marked by the tremendous destruction of Hurricane Hugo on September 21, 1989. In response, the Junior League adjusted its focus after the storm, and gave more than $70,000 and many volunteer hours to disaster relief programs.
Despite the storm, the League gave more than $143,000 to seven community projects: Lowcountry Children’s Center, Guardian Ad Litem, Youth Service Charleston, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Woman to Woman, Teen Outreach, and Kids on the Block.
In the 1990’s, League projects continued to be shaped by its seven policy statements.
Under League leadership and with seed funds from The Junior League of Charleston, Inc., the Lowcountry Children’s Center, Inc. was established April 1, 1990. It opened for business in March, 1991, at the King Street location. This multi-disciplinary, comprehensive center for victims of child abuse saw over 3,800 clients in its first five years, and is nationally recognized as a model for treatment of child abuse. The League continues financial and volunteer involvement today.
During the 1990-91 year, the League continued its support in the community through Community Assistance Grants and by the establishment of three new projects: Ashley Hall’s Women in Leadership, Environmental School of the Year and the Heritage Education Mini Conference. During National Volunteer Week the League successfully participated in the first Association-wide public awareness campaign, “Don’t Wait to Vaccinate,” by collaborating with the Trident Health District.
As the process of focusing was cemented, it was decided in 1994 that future projects and a large scale program to be developed in the next three years would center on the first focus area, Family Preservation. After intensive research, the membership adopted in 1996 the Gadsden Green neighborhood for a partnership to develop a large family program. At the same time, new and existing projects were directed in the area of Family Preservation.
Projects focusing on Family Preservation in 1996-97 included “Mothers & Co.,” which emphasized a variety of parenting issues and skills for teenage parents. Junior League volunteers were trained to conduct the program and then act as facilitators. The program ended with a graduation banquet in May for all the mothers who participated in the three 4-week sessions.
The League voted in two projects in Gadsden Green starting in League year 1997-98: P.H.A.T.T. (Positive Horizons for Artistically Talented Teens), a theater workshop directed by David Mitchell; and an expanded summer enrichment program that included students from Gadsden Green who attended Mitchell Elementary. Other projects included AIM, LCC, Saturday Soup Kitchen, Hands On and the Mentor Project.
P.H.A.T.T. performed two plays during the League year: “The Me Nobody Knows” in December 1997, and “Rhythm of My People” in May 1998. Both performances were met with standing ovations and the project was voted to be continued for 1998-99.
League year 1998-99 continued our focus on Family Preservation with the projects that were continued from the year before: AIM, LCC, Saturday Soup Kitchen, Hands On, Youth Mentoring, P.H.A.T.T., and an expanded Summer Enrichment program which added an additional teacher and concentrated its efforts at just one school, Mitchell Elementary. Two new projects were also selected for 1998-99: Adult Mentoring and the Child & Family Development Center. Adult Mentoring evolved from the Family Ties Committee, and the main goal of this project was to pair a woman from Public Housing with a League member to serve as a mentor throughout the year. The Child & Family Development Center was an outreach program of the College of Charleston’s Early Childhood Development Center. The center was designed as a state of the art facility that could serve a diverse group of children from various socio-economic and educational backgrounds, races, and needs. The goal of the center was to ensure that the family succeeds, not simply to offer day care. Our goal was to include children from the Gadsden Green community.
League year 1999-2000 focused on Family Preservation with the continuation of several projects: Adult & Youth Mentoring, AIM, Hands On, LCC, P.H.A.T.T., and the Saturday Soup Kitchen. The Child & Family Development Center, which was originally voted to continue this year, was closed for reorganization by the Charleston County School District in August 1999. AIM continued bringing the arts (ballet, symphony, museum trips) to middle school children, LCC continued providing abused children the serves they needed, and the Saturday Soup Kitchen served lunch to approximately 150 guests each Saturday. Both mentoring programs made strides in providing assistance both adults and children in the programs. P.H.A.T.T. held a performance in December at the Burke High School Auditorium. In January 2000, the League learned that the concept of P.H.A.T.T had been changed, there would no performances and that the artists would travel around to different community centers and teach African drumming and some dance. A meeting of League representatives and Housing Authority personnel took place. This meeting confirmed that the League’s and the Housing Authority’s goals for the project were in serious conflict. A week later, the Board voted to discontinue P.H.A.T.T. as a project of the League. In April 2000, the Gadsden Green partnership was dissolved. Additionally, the number of Community Assistance Grants (CAGs) review cycles was reduced from three to two to more efficiently distribute the available funding. The committee received requests for over $109,000 from 26 organizations seeking to address a number of diverse community needs. Upon the committee’s recommendation, the Board approved awards for the following projects: Carolina Youth Development Center’s PANDA Program, Charleston Clefts’ Hospital and Newborn Survival Kit Projects, Communities in Schools’ Teen Companion Project (Swimming Component), Innovative Alternatives for Education’s Summer Leadership Day Camp, Jenkins Institute’s Computer Project, The ARK’s Alzheimer’s Respite Care Program, The Charleston Artist Guild’s “Very Special Arts Awards Competition,” The Dictionary Project, The Low Country Elder Shelter’s Fan Installation Project, and The Sea Island Mentoring Alliance’s mentoring program on John’s Island.
The membership voted in April 2000 to continue the following projects for the 2000-01 League year: Adult and Youth Mentoring, Hands On, LCC, and the Saturday Soup Kitchen Two new projects were added this year: the SC Aquarium and the Looking Glass at Hollings Cancer Center. At the SC Aquarium, volunteer tasks are varied ranging from chaperones for school groups to exhibit guides to public relations assistants to costumed characters. The Looking Glass at Hollings Cancer Center is an appearance center serving patients recovering from cancer treatment surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. The goal is to help patients take control of a critical phase of their treatment and provide a psychological boost by helping the patient look and feel their best through a particularly challenging period of their lives and beyond.
In 2006, the League approved a $750 Community Assist Grant to fund a new program at the Lowcountry Food Bank, Backpack Buddies. This program supplied children in need a “backpack” of food to be consumed over the weekend in Charleston county. Research had shown children performed better scholastically when properly nourished over seven days a week. While most of these children in need were provided breakfast and lunch at school Monday through Friday, there was a gap over the weekend. Children would come to school not only hungry but fatigued and suffering from headaches which inhibited their ability to learn. Since this program was initiated, the League has partnered with the Lowcountry Foodbank every year to not only provide funds but hundreds of volunteer hours as well with packing the backpacks which are now provided throughout the Lowcountry Food Bank’s service area. As of 2015, the Junior League of Charleston has awarded the Lowcountry Food Bank over $223,097.