Junior League invests in women, community

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At KIPP Charlotte, a charter school that is part of the Knowledge Is Power Program national network of over 100 tuition-free, college-preparatory public schools, a new initiative focuses on leadership development for middle-school girls.

Created by the Junior League of Charlotte in partnership with other local nonprofits, the initiative aims to help girls address challenges they face or will face such as self-esteem, issues related to their bodies, and finding a voice.

League volunteers are responsible for planning meetings, lining up speakers and interacting with girls in the program, and the organization supports it with an $8,000 grant.

The effort is one of 20 programs that this year will receive funds and volunteers from the League, which also is launching a new “Cornerstone” project that will focus on the dental, mental and physical health of Charlotte-area children, with an emphasis on the importance of family decisions and their impact on children.

Formed in 1926, the League has provided millions of volunteer hours and over $12.5 million to the community.

With over 2,000 members, including over 770 who are active and over 70 more who are training to become members, the League operates with an annual budget of $1 million and a staff of seven people working full-time.

It will contribute nearly $157,000 and 485 volunteers to 20 community programs in the fiscal year that ends May 31, volunteers who will contribute an estimated 19,400 hours that will be worth over $414,000.

“We absolutely develop the potential of women,” says Katie Zeok, a vice president and senior change consultant at Bank of America who this year is serving as president and board chair for the League.

“We also train our volunteers so they are able to go out in the community and not only promote the Junior League but in later years serve on other nonprofit boards or volunteer with other nonprofits,” says Zeok.

In recent years, the League has seen a surge in women in their late 40s to mid-50s who join the organization as “provisionals,” undergoing a six-month training program before they become active members.

“The economic downturn has really made a difference in people wanting to give back,” says Zeok, who at 33 became the League’s youngest president ever.

Seventy-five percent of League members work outside the home, with two-thirds of them volunteering at the 20 nonprofits the League supports, and the remainder volunteering for the League itself, handling a broad range of responsibilities.

Among the 20 community nonprofits where they volunteer, Junior League members volunteer during the day at only two of those groups because most of them have day jobs.

As president, Zeok volunteers full-time in addition to her full-time job at Bank of America.

In her two years as president-elect and president, she will have volunteered a total of 3,200 hours for the League.

Over the years, the League has taken on Cornerstone projects to meet needs that were not being met in the community, many of them involving “bricks-and-mortar” projects.

Past projects include Charlotte Children’s Theatre, Charlotte Nature Museum, Charlotte Speech and Hearing, Double Oaks Family Resource Center and Levine Children’s Hospital Family Resource Center.

In addition to member dues and interest from its $1.2 million endowment, the League last year generated over $600,000 from its WearHouse thrift store and $44,000 from its annual “Lights! Camera! Fashion!” fundraising event sponsored by Belk.

In addition to developing the potential of women, Zeok says, a key goal of the Junior League is to “improve the community.”

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