I recently moved to a new town in Westchester County and one of the neighbors I met started telling me about all the work she does with the local Junior League and invited me to come to one of their events. She's a stay-at home mom with her three children, the youngest now in nursery school. So she's decided to devote more time to the organization now, which helps local immigrants, teaches adults how to read, holds clothing drives for kids, etc. I was thinking about her after I read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Junior League's plans to change its focus. Here's the beginning:
New Jersey native Delly Beekman has one message for female volunteers: This isn't your mother's charity anymore.
The newly elected board president is trying to turn the century-old Association of Junior Leagues International from a pearls-and-white-glove social organization into a powerful women's movement.
Oh good. Just what we needed: Another powerful women's movement. Sorry for the sarcasm, it's just that sometimes it seems to me that whenever nonprofits are at a loss about how to make themselves more popular or more financially sustainable, they immediately decide to become more political. Now, It does seem that the Junior League has been suffering from some membership problems lately, losing a fifth of its members in the last decade, according to the Journal. Their first answer, which is to offer more opportunities to women who work more and have less time to devote to civic service seems reasonable. But the League's other plan, according to the Journal, is
to transition the Leagues from project-based organizations, where members participate in singular volunteer activities, to issue-based groups, rallying together on issues such as sex-trafficking of women, childhood obesity and education. A number of local leagues have formed political action groups to lobby local and national leaders on these issues.
Ms. Beekman has apparently determined that this is the way to go forward based in part on the advice of her 24-year-old daughter. The conversation probably went something like this: "Mom, get with the times. If you want all those girls who voted for Obama to come to the Junior League, you have to think big. Think political issues. All of those little clothing drives aren't going to inspire my generation." Who knows? She may be right. But I hope not. It's not just nostalgia for "my mother's charity" that leads me to that conclusion. It's that I worry there are so few spaces where we can meet our fellow citizens and not get plunged into politics. It's not that I think most people disagree about sex-trafficking, presumably. But I'm guessing there are some serious political differences on what should be done about childhood obesity and fixing education. More important, I just figure there are probably enough people out there doing political lobbying. Maybe a few of us could just stick with the clothing drives.