Founded in 1933 as an organization for charitable work, the Junior League of Greater Lakeland has contributed to our community’s cultural and educational needs through a variety of long-lasting projects including:
A More Comprehensive League History – Junior League of Greater Lakeland, Inc.
Written by Dottie Collins & Sheila Lotterhos
An organization for charitable work was formed in Lakeland on March 3, 1933 by twenty-ﬁve charter members who adopted as their purpose to render charitable volunteer service within the community. The name Junior Welfare League of Lakeland was selected, a constitution drawn up, and the venture was launched.
The years during World War II (1942-1946) were devoted to the war effort as well as welfare (Blood Center, Red Cross, War Bond Sales, entertainment of service men and wives).
Not mentioned above, but important in the League’s history, have been the many hours of service contributed to the community’s civic drives such as the United Way, TB Seals, Red Cross, Heart Fund, Cancer Drive, etc. In order to free its members for service hours in the League’s projects, this service has been discontinued except on an individual, voluntary basis.
While the 1970’s began our long term partnership with Reading is FUNdamental (RIF), a national reading program with a goal of increasing literacy through placing books in the hands of elementary school children at qualifying schools, the 1995-96 year saw two new projects adopted by the League: Ready, Set, Go! and Read To Succeed. The latter was initiated to enrich the lives of preschool children and their parents by providing a foundation of literacy. Ready, Set, Go! was aimed at supplying underprivileged kindergartners with the basics they needed to begin school. In an effort to better serve young children, the League evolved its literacy projects into Ready to Read and created another project called Community of Readers through which members read to and distributed books to children throughout the community.
In 2005, the Community of Readers initially hosted a pilot reading festival in Barnett Family Park. As our League’s signature reading event, World of Reading continues to provide Polk County families with a free community reading activity. Children discover the joy of reading through song, puppetry, interaction with children’s book authors, and other activities. Through the Ready to Read project, the League is able to partner with one of our RIF schools and provide much needed support through two League sponsored parent nights, gift cards for teachers and parents, and in other ways that meet the needs of that school. World of Reading, Ready to Read, and RIF are the flagships of our organization and signify the League’s ongoing commitment to area children and their families, particularly those in need.
Along with the change of a new century, the need for changes in our longstanding fundraisers as well as the need for a new headquarters building became evident. Though Charity Ball and Thrift Sale, supplemented by a periodic Follies, had served the League’s financial needs for 32 and 36 years respectively, our fundraisers shifted with the times and the organization’s needs. For several years, the League hosted Holiday Market and Book Ball. Until 2015, the League sponsored PigFest, a nationally ranked barbecue contest, and in 2011, the League took charge of the Pro-Am Tennis Tournament. Furthermore, an endowment fund was established and is funded by donations from members and friends alike. In all, we have invested well over a million dollars and untold volunteer hours in our community.
We also came together to purchase and restore the historic Junior League Sorosis Building on Lake Morton. The building houses our organization and its projects, while serving as a popular event venue for the community at large. The Celebration Garden was planned to enhance the grounds of the building and to provide an outdoor venue to better serve those who have weddings and other events at our headquarters. Along this same line, the League sponsors a garden club devoted to learning more about gardening and beautification projects.
Today, the Junior League of Greater Lakeland continues to be the organization in Florida with the longest-running RIF program, marking its thirtieth anniversary in 2004. Though federal funding for the national program was eliminated in 2012, we are still able to use this name for our own project. We hope to see the number of participants we serve through our signature projects continue to increase each year. As it stands, thousands upon thousands of area citizens, particularly children, have benefited from the League’s giving and involvement in their lives, lives which have been forever changed.
The Junior League is proud of its legacy and continues to strive to meet the needs of the community through its dedicated and sustained membership. It is rewarding for our members to see the direct results of their efforts. We thank our friends for their continued support and look forward to the future as we continue to improve our community together.