Our History

Founded in March 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 first years (1933-1942) were devoted to welfare work (Rose Keller Home, Sewing Committee, Discretionary Committee, Hospital Bed, Salvation Army, Milk Fund, Dental Clinic). Funds were raised through many projects, decided upon each year, as the money was needed. In addition, a Salvage Shop (Bargain Box it was later called) was established in 1936 as a permanent money-raising project. With the exception of the years 1943-1951, this project continued until 1967. 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 servicemen and wives). 

The following years (1947-1972) found the League broadening its scope. Full responsibility for a needed project was assumed until that project was self-sustaining or no longer needed (Day Nursery, Bookmobile, Cerebral Palsy Clinic). Ways and Means began limiting itself to one or two large money raising projects. Contributions to the community’s cultural and educational needs were begun (Children’s Theater, Bookmobile, Children’s Concerts, Suitcase Museum, Youth Museum). 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.

In 1972, having been accepted for consideration for membership in the National Association of Junior Leagues, the Lakeland League spent two years in preparation and orientation for this historic step. In January 1974, it became a reality, and the Junior League of Greater Lakeland, Florida, Incorporated, became the 225th member of the National Association of Junior Leagues.

The next two and a half decades witnessed the Junior League’s involvement in a variety of projects, including the Polk Museum of Art, Food for Families, Christmas Parade, the Polk Theatre restoration, and the publication of Palm Country Cuisine. Major grants coupled with volunteers have been awarded to start-up projects such as The Salvation Army’s H.A.L.O. Child Enrichment Center, LRMC’s Parent/Child Resource Room, the Junior League Branch of Girls, Inc., Explorations V, and Florida Baptist Children’s Home Teenage Shelter. We also built a headquarters building with enough space to house our Thrift Sale salvage.

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. The League also sponsors a book club which is open to League members and community members alike.

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.  In 2016, the League began sponsoring a fashion show entitled Spotlight on Style. Furthermore, an endowment fund was established and is funded by donations from members and friends alike. 

In 2020, our League joined other Junior Leagues around the country and the London League in an awareness fundraiser London started called “The Little Black Dress Initiative” which focuses attention on the needs of the less fortunate and provides an avenue to address those needs.  We now raise a significant amount of awareness and funds that are donated toward a new League project called “Titan Apparel”, Tenoroc High School’s clothing closet for students in need.  In 2021, we began a new Sustainer project called “BEE The Difference” to further enhance our Tenoroc project by supplying hygiene products and clothing.  In 2020, we also transitioned our Spotlight on Style event into a new fundraiser called Black Diamond Ball which has been very successful in supporting our various projects.  

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-2021, we got creative with placements and projects and partnered with other area agencies to identify and help meet our community’s most pressing needs.  If we found one door temporarily closed on a project, we opened another.  Hence, the League met the challenges it faced with courage and creativity while raising over $248,000 during the pandemic’s peak to positively impact our community, supplying books and other needed items to Greater Lakeland’s most vulnerable children.  Since our founding,  we have joyously invested millions of dollars and untold volunteer hours to better our citizens’ quality of life.

In addition to new fundraisers and projects, the new century saw us come 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 a myriad of other events at our headquarters.

Today, the Junior League of Greater Lakeland continues to be the organization in Florida with the longest-running RIF program, marking its forty-fifth anniversary in 2019. 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.