The Junior League of Lake Charles hosted its 21st annual Mistletoe and Moss Holiday Market this season. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2013 10:04 PM
The Junior League of Lake Charles is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.
Stephanie Kestel Karpovs, the 2013-14 president of the organization, and Sustaining Adviser Ann Knapp talked with the American Press about the Junior League’s history and impact on Southwest Louisiana.
American Press: What’s the mission of the Junior League?
Stephanie Karpovs: Our mission is shared with Junior Leagues around the country, and it is promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through the effective action and training of volunteers.
How many members do you have?
Karpovs: Right now we have around 550 total, but active membership we have around 180.
How does one become a member?
Karpovs: We have sponsorships for that. You do not have to know a Junior League member to become a member. It’s just women that are age 21 and up living in this five-parish area that share the league’s ideal about being committed to volunteerism and improving the community. We usually hold our membership open enrollment period in January and February and so anyone who is wanting to join can call the office (436-4025) or visit our website (http://www.jllc.net/) to get more information about that. We do match people with two sponsors just so they know somebody with it being such a large organization to help them navigate through their first year as a provisional (member). It’s open to anyone as long as they are female and like I said 21 or older in the five-parish area.
There’s different membership levels, correct?
Karpovs: Our provisional level is our first-year members and they complete a year-long training course to learn about the League and our history and also just the inner workings of the League. They learn information about fundraising and community impact. So that’s a year-long program. After completing that, then they become an active member, and active members, we serve at least eight years. But many choose to do more than that.
During your active year, we have placements where some people serve on a fund-raising committee, other people serve on a in-League committee meaning they do public relations or things of that nature.
And then we have the community side of it where we serve. So we’re all placed on a certain committee and we also participate in fund-raising activities. We just had Mistletoe and Moss. That was a 100 percent volunteer run. We all worked together to put that on.
After serving eight years you have the choice to either extend your membership and serve on a committee or become a sustainer which you still pay dues to support the organization, but you choose how active you want to be.
Ann, thankfully, is our sustaining adviser to the board and has taken a very active role. And we do have sustaining advisers for every committee that we have just to get that wisdom, that prior knowledge that we may not have and bring another opinion to the table for us. That’s really going to keep the League moving forward with our mission.
As far as the committees, if someone had a particular strength, do they get an opportunity to choose where they would like to serve because they feel like their talents lend themselves best to that committee?
Karpovs: They do. We have placement advisers that is a separate committee so there’s groups of members that are paired with one adviser and it’s like our lifeline in the League. We can go to them if we have strengths or if we have concerns about something. They do help us navigate through our League career and that opportunity is really good because they can say, ‘‘I am really interested in this piece of the puzzle. How do I get there?’’ Or, ‘‘I would like to serve on the board eventually. What placements would be good for me to get to that pathway.’’
We try to discourage people from doing the exact same thing that they do in their everyday job because the League is unique in that it is a training ground and we all gain so many different skills from our League membership. We laugh because we say, ‘‘Oh, I learned that in the League, I learned that in the League.’’ But really it’s true if you look back and see all the different skills we’ve gained and we have used along the way. Most of it comes from our experience as being a Junior League member.
Talk about the history of the League and what it has meant to Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana and some of its major accomplishments.
Knapp: I think all you have to do is look around the community, starting with an organization like the (Lake Charles) Symphony, which was a Junior League project that originated with a Junior League effort. The Volunteer Center, The Children’s Museum, the Arts and Humanities Council, the number of projects are limitless.
It has been our practice in the past to take a project, birth it, get it operational and then hand it over to the community. Probably one that you are familiar with is Family and Youth Counseling which has grown tremendously since its origins and the original concept. It has taken on a life of its own and many different subsets within it.
I think that is one reason why I’m so proud to be a Junior League member is because so many good things that are happening in the community, if you look back, at some point in time they were originally a Junior League project.
So your fingerprints are on a lot of different entities. There are a number of projects that are out on their own now, but no one knows that origins.
Knapp: That’s exactly right. We were involved with the origins of ETC Harbor House. We gave on our 50th anniversary the money to build the Women’s Shelter facility when it was out at Chennault. We gave a substantial sum of money to that. So we’ve been involved throughout the community in an number of efforts.
Is there one or two that stand out more than the others?
Knapp: I love all my children and I love all my Junior League projects. I’m not going to touch that (laughter).
You’re right. That probably is a loaded question because you may have a personal favorite or two but another member might say, ‘‘What about this project?’’
Knapp: But we’re so excited and I want Stephanie to talk about the project the are engaged in now which is The Leader in Me which I think is so exciting.
Karpovs: The thing is the ripple effect. Our involvement came from partnering with Oak Park Elementary and Dolby Elementary. They had The Leader in Me program already in their schools. We came on board as volunteers helping and we actually established parent trainings for them for the parents to learn about The Leader in Me program.
Through that involvement we saw how wonderful it was and how it truly had measurable results. So in honor of our 80th anniversary with have pledged $80,000 to fully implement The Leader in Me program. The school that we were given was Maplewood which is a great thing because actually the principal is a sustaining member of the Junior League. We didn’t say we only want it to be at Maplewood. That was the one that was given to us and it’s really going to be a great fit.
What that does is that it ties in so well with our focus areas right now. We are mainly focused with the areas of literacy, workforce development and healthy choices and healthy families. So all the programming that we do kind of umbrella under those things and The Leader in Me is a perfect tie-in. We’re able to do our Fit Kids program at The Leader in Me schools, to teach about healthy choices and we’re of course focusing on literacy. The workforce development piece of it is that we’re instilling leadership skills and character at such a young age with these students that with this big economic boom, it’s going to be so impactful decades from now.
That’s what is so exciting for us as active members of the Junior League right now. We can see what we’re doing is going to have the same type of major effect that the Literacy Council had or that the Court Appoint Special Advocates (CASA) had or the Imperial Calcasieu Museum. We see our involvement in The Leader in Me being that long-standing benefit to the community.
What’s on the horizon? Is there anything that you want to tackle next?
Karpovs: We had a Leader in Me roundtable breakfast recently where we brought together not only League members, but also other leaders from organizations and just had a discussion about where do we go from here. Of course, The Leader in Me at Maplewood is at least a three-year commitment for us as far as the money, but also the volunteer support that we are putting into that.
But what we see as a need is to gather together more organizations to see how on a global level we can help the community and bring it maybe to organizations that aren’t involved with a school but where their employees could benefit from ‘‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’’ by Stephen Covey and just really make this a phenomenal community, even better than it is now.
So that’s where we see ourselves going as really helping a lot of different organizations come together and implement this training, whether it be on a three-day scale or bringing in consultants to do a miniature training for employees of different companies. We’d like to see that training occur in our area. ...
We did a reassessment several years ago as far as where do we go from here. What new project are we going to start and turn over? And we were finding that organizations don’t really want a new thing to have to keep up with. We really need to collaborate together and find out who is doing similar things, come together and make more a meaningful impact and pool our resources together, pool our ideas, synergize as the 7 Habits would say.
So collaboration has been a major focus for us, really returning to some of our past programs like Family and Youth. They have the CASA program and the Team Leadership Council, both of which we started, housed under Family and Youth. So we’re trying to get our volunteers to use Family and Youth as a resource. So instead of going to another organization, we’re partnering with Family and Youth to collaborate because they already have so many of the resources that we would need for some of our projects.
The Calcasieu Community Clinic was really the most recent one that we officially turned over. That was the most recent one that we had started and then gave back to the community and it’s thriving and doing well. But from here on out, we really do look to organizations that are already in existence and hopefully ones that we have helped give life to in the community and just kind of pairing together and seeing how we could make the biggest impact.
We talked a little bit about Mistletoe and Moss. How do you raise funds?
Karpovs: Mistletoe and Moss is our largest fundraiser. We get most of our proceeds to do our community programming through that. We also have our cookbook sales, ‘‘Marshes to Mansions’’, and we still receive royalties from the ‘‘Pirates Pantry’’ cookbook. We have a golf tournament in the spring that is called Leaguers and Links. That will be March 31st, 2014 and we’re always looking for sponsors and donors for that. We are going to have two flights this year because there was such an interest in that. Those are our three major fundraisers, but also all members pay dues and we also have an annual fund that we contribute to or we receive donations to that and that helps us with our operating costs for the year.
We do a budget ever year and forecast what we need to do to fulfill all of our community commitments. We mostly plan everything a year in advance and really stick to our budget and try to forecast what we need to raise. Mistletoe and Moss generates over $100,000 for us so we are so thankful for the community support for that.
What are the misconceptions in the community about the Junior League?
Karpovs: As a young member in the Junior League, people are sometimes surprised, ‘‘You’re in the Junior League?’’. There’s still that misconception about pearl wearing, although pearls will always be in style (laughter), white glove wearing. We like to say we’ve traded the white gloves for work gloves.
(Some people think) We gather and just go to lunch. Our meetings over lunch are work meetings. It’s a lot of brain power under one roof. It’s a place to gain skills that you never thought were possible and expose yourself to so many different personality types and learn a lot about group dynamics.
We’d like to have people know that we really are committed to making a difference in our community and the benefit we receive through our membership is the training we get. We really have training at every single meeting. That enables us to go out in the community and serve on other boards.
That’s the prime hope of all Junior Leagues around the world is that this is a training ground for us to go out and be lifelong servants in the community. So we’ve seen Ann Knapp go on. Willie Mount is the example that comes to my mind, going on to be a (state) senator and mayor. She’s a great example for us as Junior League members that there’s something much bigger than ourselves and we can learn many different skills here and then go out and serve our community.
Knapp: I totally would agree with that. The misconception is about the white-glove idea, we all kind of chuckle at that because if anything, as Stephanie said, they’re work gloves. We’re here to make a difference. We certainly enjoy with being with each other because obviously that of that congeniality, but these are people that are congenial around doing something for the community. And that’s the positive thing of it. There’s a lot of collegiality toward this goal of serving the community. ...
A misconception might be that you can’t be a member of the Junior League and have a full-time job. When I was coming up in the League, women didn’t have full-time jobs so it was predominantly composed of ladies who had the privilege of being at home with their children and we had a meeting for employed people of which I was at that time one of those. We had probably eight or 10 people who attended the meeting who were employed. It was a night meeting.
As times have changed and many more women are working outside the home, the League has adapted to that and most all of them — I’m going to guess at a number but 95 percent of the actives are all working ladies. They all have full-time jobs. So the misconception is that you can’t fit it all is really not true. It has worked its way through the organization and the adaptations that are necessary have been made. And I think that’s really important.
Karpovs: We did a survey a number of years ago and at least the ones reported back, a minimum of 77 percent of our membership worked outside of the home. Also that is a testament to our organization about how adaptable we are because we find a need in the community and we fill it, but we also find a need in our membership and we make it so that our members can still have that fulfillment of volunteering but work it within their life schedule now.
When we started we had 11 founders and they were full-time volunteers. That’s what they did. Now, we’re still able to do so many great things, but we can’t be full-time volunteers because many of us are the sole bread winners, some are single moms and some are still stay-at-home moms, but most of them are working and in big jobs, too. We’ve got doctors, lawyers and teachers, so it’s exciting to see the change in the membership and the diversity.
That’s one thing that is awesome right now. We do have a diverse membership and we strive to make it more inclusive every year. We’ve got 40 provisionals that it’s going to be amazing to see in a couple when they are serving on the board because they are a very dynamic group of people and to see how we’ve grown from 11 founders to now almost 600 people involved in our local organization, it’s great.
As a sustaining member and having many years vested in the Junior League, how much pride do you take in seeing the continuation and to see the project that you started and how they’ve grown, but also that the baton has been passed and the young women coming on are still carrying on and have that great spirit to keep it going?
Knapp: That is totally a source of pride for all sustainers that we know that we’ve made a mark in the community and that’s a wonderful legacy as a group working together. And that as we have graduated to being volunteers as sustainers, that there is a new crop, if you will, of volunteers that are learning the training skills to get the ability to come in and take over the baton from us. And as we get a little older, the baton needs to move to a new generation of leaders in the community.
I will certainly share something that we’ve said to you before. Willie and I use to sit in the City Hall and say, ‘‘Gee, we learned all of that in the Junior League.’’ (laughter) It’s absolutely true. I personally can always tell a board that is run by someone who has the skills of a Junior League member versus one that doesn’t. It’s just learning how to run an organization, how to operate an organization. It just makes a light years worth of difference and the effectiveness of every volunteer organization. The fact that we are going to be graduating all these young women as sustainers makes me have hope about this community as it continues to grow and prosper.
What ground haven’t we covered?
Knapp: I want to take a moment to say our sustainers stay with us because of their pride and their love of the work of the Junior League. To have at that anniversary toast, which I was out of town for, Annabella Gorham, who is 94, I believe ...
Karpovs: Either 93 or 94
Knapp: ... she came to our anniversary celebration. I think she is the oldest living president and she is absolutely committed to the Junior League. We had a luncheon and she was sitting at the front table of the luncheon about three or four weeks ago with a group of her friends. Whether you are 94 or 24, that span of commitment is really amazing.
There is something to be said about tradition and all that it brings to the table and the way it moves people along and people learn from their elders and the younger group doesn’t want to disappoint.
Knapp: And the multi-generations. Stephanie’s mom was on my board of directors when I was president of the Junior League. So that’s so neat. It’s a generational experience which is one of the reasons I was so excited when Stephanie ask me to be her board adviser was because I’m very close to her mom as well and respect her leadership skills and what she has contributed and that’s a neat aspect.
My daughter-in-law, Megan, Adam’s wife, is a member of the Junior League of Baton Rouge so we have lots of conversations about what goes on between the two and it’s fun.
Karpovs: Kind of growing up in the League and seeing so many things from a child’s perspective, The Children’s Museum was just getting started, so I was the kid that went around to all the exhibits. So now they are celebrating their 25th anniversary as a separate corporation this year and as part of our 80th anniversary we actually donated a new literacy-based exhibit to The Children’s Museum and just seeing how that’s going to be there for so many years and for so many children to enjoy, it’s those kind of things that are so neat to me personally having grown up with the League.
But also to know that you are asking as far as membership, you don’t have to have a family member in the Junior League to be a member. We have some many people that they didn’t even know who would sponsor them and we matched them with a sponsor.
It’s just coming together and making sure that in their provisional year they do learn the history and the vast footprint of the Junior League on this community so that they can be proud and they can go to these different places all around the community and know that women just like us sitting here started something great and you will to and you can be part of it. And to share their pride in their organization with their co-workers and their family members because it really is making us effective leaders, better moms, better wives, better employees, better volunteers. You are definitely better having been a part of the Junior League.