(Un)-happy Valentine’s Day?

ajli-1What does Valentine’s Day have to do with teen dating violence awareness?

In 2017, more than you might expect.

First, Valentine’s Day falls in February, of course, which is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

This year, Valentine’s Day has also been designated Wear Orange Day, in which supporters of all ages wear orange – whether clothing, nail polish, ribbons, jewelry or shoes – to demonstrate their support of healthy dating relationships. (This is an offshoot of the “orange” movement, which uses the color orange as a universal symbol of the fight against violence against women and girls.)

And, if that’s not enough, Respect Week takes place during Valentine’s Day week (February 12-18) and provides a framework for young people to continue the fight against dating violence with awareness events and social media.

The sponsor of Wear Orange Day and Respect Week is loveisrespect.org. The nonprofit, which strives to empower youth to prevent and end dating abuse, provides these statistics to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem:

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
  • One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence.
  • One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

(The love is respect initiative is a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which Junior League members MariBen Ramsey and Christine Benero wrote about here in support of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 2016.)

Junior Leagues are approaching the problem in a wide range of ways.

The Junior League of Ann Arbor/Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research Domestic & Dating Violence Prevention Endowment Fund tackles it directly by providing a sustainable resource for the education and prevention of dating and domestic violence that supports innovative, early intervention and prevention programs.

Strong Girls, Bright Futures, a project of the Junior League of Gwinnett and North Fulton Counties, seeks to make a difference in the lives of girls in the 5th through 8th grades by coaching them on how to make positive choices and think critically.

Positively More, a project of the Junior League of Greenwich, is designed to give pre-teen girls the tools to avoid compromising situations, lessen the consequences of potential conflicts and identify lessons learned by those challenges.

The Junior League of Little Rock’s Families and Community Together (FACT) initiative pairs JLLR mentors with pregnant and parenting female teens to encourage the participants to stay in school, delay future pregnancies and learn positive parenting skills. The League’s Girls Realizing Opportunity Within (GROW) is designed to help adolescent girls establish and improve their self-esteem and self-image in order to develop an inner confidence and to promote positive life choices.

*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.

Joy Burkhard. Volunteer.

Joy Burkhard. Volunteer.

 It is not unusual in The Junior League for a member to really dig into an assignment and become an expert as well as a catalyst for change in that area of focus.

Consider Joy Burkhard.

Joy is co-founder and Executive Director of 2020 Mom, a national nonprofit dedicated to closing gaps in maternal mental health care through convening, collaborating, advocacy and education. She also is a founder and Chair of the National Coalition for Maternal Mental Health and sits on the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative Executive Committee and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology working group on maternal depression.

Because of her incredible commitment to maternal mental health care, she has received the Women’s Health Emerging Leader Award from the U.S. Health and Human Services Agency’s Office of Women’s Health as well as the Volunteer of the Year award from Cigna, her long-time employer, where she is a compliance project manager. Both awards were made in 2016.

Before founding 2020 Mom, Joy had a rich volunteer life with the Junior League of Los Angeles, serving most recently as its representative with the Junior Leagues of California State Public Affairs Committee (Cal-SPAC). She was recognized by JLLA in 2013 with its Founder’s Cup award.  During Joy’s tenure with Cal-SPAC, the group championed legislation which declared May as maternal mental health month in perpetuity.

Joy’s says she was moved to action as a mental health advocate during her little brothers struggle accessing care for his mental health disorder which culminated after his suicide. She also experienced her own  anxiety after the birth of her first child and new other women didn’t have the same support and resources to get through it as she did.  The many heart-wrenching stories of loss, including the story of Jenny Gibbs, the twin of an Olympic athlete who tragically took her baby’s life and then her own, whose story inspired a young junior league member to submit the idea for Cal-SPAC’s legislation.  This coupled with her understanding of the complex health care system, need to understand root causes, and passion for improvement put her on the path to doing more.

“If I hadn’t joined the Junior League I wouldn’t be doing this incredibly rewarding and important work.  I was able to gain skills, knowledge of the problem and the confidence to do more.

My advice for other Junior League members is to look for overlap in your personal, professional and volunteer lives and take advantage of doing something when there is overlap in multiple circles.  Causes need dedicated women like us.”

You can learn more about Joy’s views on what can be done to improve maternal mental health through this YouTube video and these AJLI links (here and here).

*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.

Quick! What’s the #1 health issue for American kids?

Quick! What’s the #1 health issue for American kids?

The answer, of course, is tooth decay, according to Oral Health America (OHA), a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on preventing oral disease and promoting oral health for Americans of all ages.

Surprised by that answer? Don’t be. More than a quarter of American children age 18 and under are at higher risk for tooth decay, according to OHA, with more than 68 percent of kids aged six to nine not receiving dental sealants (thin plastic coatings that are applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth) to protect them from tooth decay. Cost of care is a major factor, with many families experiencing difficulty paying for private services or finding a dental provider that accepts government funding through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid.

Without treatment, dental decay becomes irreversible, leading to infection of the teeth, gums and tooth loss. Lack of treatment also compromises the child’s ability to eat well, sleep well, and function well at home and at school. And dental disease can lead to diabetes and heart disease later in adult life.

Dental health has become a significant focus for Junior Leagues that partner with the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® program (BSBF), which provides free dental screenings and oral health education to children through a fleet of mobile dental vans that travel to under-served rural and urban communities across the U.S.

But the Junior League of Cincinnati is on its own path to ensuring dental health for our children…and it’s a good one.

JLC’s GrinUp! Pediatric Oral Health project is a public advocacy and education initiative dedicated to ensuring healthy teeth for kids in the Cincinnati community, including advocating for accessible and affordable oral health care.

The key to the success of GrinUp! is by making learning how to care for their teeth fun. How? By using learning tools that make it fun.

Take the GrinUp! website (operated separately from the JLC website), which offers an online “brush timer” to make it easy to do the two-minute brushing (twice a day!) that dentists recommend. Or fun facts about animals’ teeth (did you know snails have 25,000 teeth on their tongues?). And a kid-oriented video visually dissecting a child’s first visit to a dentist.

And then there’s the Inside the Grin exhibit at the Duke Energy Children’s Museum that lets kids step inside a giant mouth modeled after a typical dentist’s office, complete with reclining chair, child-safe dental instruments and interactive videos. Kids use giant dental floss and a massive toothbrush to practice proper flossing and brushing techniques, learning healthy habits through play.

A big part of the success of GrinUp! has been JLC’s partners. In addition to the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, part of the Cincinnati Museum Center, they include Children’s Oral Health Network, Procter & GambleOral Health America, Landor Associates, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Delta Dental Foundation.

*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.


From Silicon Valley, a STEM program for girls

stemYou may have heard the statistics on women as STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – professionals, and they are discouraging.

Consider these findings by the United States Census Bureau:

While women’s representation in STEM occupations has increased since the 1970s, they remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and computer – occupations that make up more than 80 percent of all STEM employment. Among science and engineering graduates, men are employed in a STEM occupation at twice the rate of women. And nearly 1 in 5 female science and engineering graduates are out of the labor force, compared with less than 1 in 10 male science and engineering graduates.

Which is why a shout out to a great signature program by the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula is in order.

Looking for a way to celebrate its 50th anniversary, JLPA•MP developed a new community focus – “Empowering girls to be STEM leaders of tomorrow.” Obviously, this is a natural for a Junior League whose members have many ties to Silicon Valley and the communities that nurture it; but this program is much more than just a feel-good initiative in support of the dominant industry in town.

Two key elements of the initiative paint the picture.

First, partnering with San Jose’s The Tech Museum of Innovation and one of its signature programs called The Tech Challenge, an annual team design challenge for students in grades 4-12 that introduces and reinforces the science and engineering design process with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem. JLPA•MP members will mentor a team of middle school girls as they train for the next challenge event. 

In addition to a $100,000 grant to The Tech, JLPA•MP is sponsoring a new program called Girls Day @ The Tech that engages girls through STEM education as well as educating teachers to support them. Girls will participate in hands-on workshops, interact with exhibits and hear from inspiring women working in tech today.

JLPA•MP is also partnering with Technovation, a global technology entrepreneurship program and mobile app startup competition for girls ages 10-18 that challenges them to create apps for the purpose of solving real problems in their communities. League volunteers will focus on increasing the number of girls participating from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties by building visibility in the community, recruiting coaches and mentors, organizing field trips to local tech companies and a regional pitch event to help them prepare for the main competition. 

To learn more about JLPA•MP’s STEM initiative, as well as the need for more STEM programs focused on girls, here is a link to an article co-authored by Gretchen Walker, Vice President of Education at The Tech Museum of Innovation, and Jan Hickman, President of the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula.

*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.

Can we end domestic violence?

ajli.jpgGiven the fact that October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, that’s a good question.

Here’s what we know – 35 years after the first awareness month, domestic violence remains a very serious problem. According to data presented by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, it is prevalent in every community and its effects can cross generations. Among the alarming statistics: in the U.S., an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners each minute (more than 10 million abuse victims annually), and on a typical day, domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive approximately 20,800 calls. Looking at it from an economic perspective, victims of domestic violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year, and the total annual cost of domestic violence exceeds $8.3 million.

Fortunately, this is an issue that many Junior Leagues have taken a firm stand on, including Leagues in Collin County, Miami and Birmingham. But the variety of what the Junior League of Northwest Arkansas has done – and its focus on domestic violence for the entire course of its 17-year existence – is striking. And, in doing so, JLNWA has provided real value to women and children in a state consistently ranked first in the U.S. as the state with the highest number of African American women murdered by a batterer, and with approximately 37,000 reported cases of child abuse and neglect last year alone.

JLNWA provides direct support to its many community partners to provide significant issue-based community impact through its Volunteer Action Committee. The League hosts field trips, graduations and other events at EOA Children’s House, and at Peace at Home Family Shelter, an Easter celebration. Each of these events provides a safe, monitored and fun environment for students, residents and families. JLNWA also provides support to Peace at Home through volunteer days spent on cleaning or other necessary tasks, so that the capacity of the agency can be increased. Additionally, in May of 2016, JLNWA announced a $40,000 donation to Peace at Home, which will fund the gathering and common area centered in the second floor of the newly-expanded shelter.

In addition to work with community partners, the League has a number of projects of its own that focus on awareness of and raising funds for the fight against domestic violence. It has just finished up its second successful Little Black Dress Campaign to raise awareness around the limits domestic violence can have on your resources, your options, and your opportunities for employment. Both League members and individuals outside the League (in increased numbers from last year), wore the same black dress for five consecutive working days. Funds were also raised, with much coming from male donors.

The League’s Purple for a Purpose 5K & Fun Run was held earlier this month. The second annual event was set to raise awareness around the issue of domestic violence in their community. Participants were asked to wear purple, the color of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and run the 3.1 miles to symbolize conquering the struggle. (As an aside, the League eschews the traditional gun start to the race in order to not further traumatize participants who may be survivors of gun violence.)

Several years ago, the League saw an opportunity to help ease the frightening transition hundreds of children in Northwest Arkansas face each year when they are removed from their homes and placed in foster care. League members created the That’s My Bag program to provide displaced children with a backpack filled with clothes, undergarments, socks, pajamas, personal hygiene items, books, toys and other items as needed. That’s My Bag gives these children not only the essentials, but also a piece of comfort in a place that is foreign to them. The bags are packed based on age and sex, i.e. infants, toddler, child (male or female), pre-teen (male or female) and teen (male or female). The number of bags created has increased annually, and it is expected 500-600 will be distributed this year.

That’s not a bad track record for a young Junior League with 300 members.

JLNWA’s other current community partners in domestic violence awareness initiatives include The Children’s Safety Center of Washington County; DHS of Benton, Carroll, Madison, and Washington counties; Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter; and Northwest Arkansas Domestic Violence Emergency Services.

*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.

What is CSE/HT? (Hint: It involves children.)

cseIt’s a handy catchphrase for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children/Human Trafficking, which the Junior League of Atlanta adopted as a focus area in 2013. JLA offers up these statistics to illustrate why CSE/HT is such an important issue for the League and its members:

Atlanta has the biggest illegal sex economy among eight major American cities, according to a landmark government study of the sex industry.

Nearly 100 girls are sold for sex every night in Atlanta.

Most of Georgia’s trafficking victims are domestic, meaning they are U.S. residents and, frequently, are exploited in or near their own community

The average age at which girls become victims is between 12 and 14. For boys, it’s between 11 and 13.

JLA’s campaign has three clear objectives: to raise awareness about CSE/HT within the metro Atlanta area, to directly assist survivors and those at risk, and to advocate for policy changes at local, state, and federal levels.

A key component of JLA’s strategy on CSE/HT has been working with community partners. A great example is the League’s support of Safe Harbor Yes, a non-partisan campaign focused on passing a constitutional amendment in Georgia. If approved in the November general elections, it will provide a dedicated source of funding for the intensive restorative services needed to help child victims of sex trafficking return to a normal life. In addition to JLA, the campaign’s partners include United Way of Greater Georgia, YWCA of Greater Atlanta, Voices for Georgia’s Children, the International Human Trafficking Institute, Georgia Family Connection Partnership and End Human Trafficking Now.

Another important initiative, announced in February 2016, was a major gift to JLA community partner youthSpark to help fund youthSpark’s new Youth Services Center at the Fulton County Juvenile Court, which will identify and assist exploited youth in the metro Atlanta area while also offering case-managing advocates who mentor youthSpark’s clients and service referrals to credentialed partners.

Earlier, JLA helped launch a billboard outreach campaign to provide CSE/HT victims with the Georgia Care Connection number, a resource line dedicated to helping them. The billboards also served as a way to let the pimps and johns know that the community will not be silent anymore.

But much of the League’s work on CSE/HT has been of the head-down, get-the-job-done variety.

This has involved hosting an education and empowerment workshop for adolescent girls focused on awareness and prevention and holding advocacy breakfasts for business and community leaders to show them the extent of this tragedy and its effects on business and the community. JLA has also assisted survivor organizations by providing volunteers, issuing grants, and hosting drives for items needed by these organizations

In addition, JLA is using its large membership base of dedicated and trained volunteers to build a coalition of community organizations for collaboration and shared resources across the metro Atlanta area while looking for direct service opportunities for JLA members within Atlanta organizations dedicated to ending sexual exploitation.

What JLA has done on CSE/HT shows what a single League can do to coalesce support for an important initiative. An example of what Leagues acting together, as state public action committees, came with NYSPAC’s advocacy focus in 2014 on human trafficking, which led to the passage in 2015 of the  (TVPJA). This legislation – passed in the state’s Assembly and Senate largely as a result of NYSPAC’s support – was designed to close gaps and loopholes in the state’s 2007 Human Trafficking Law and the 2008 Safe Harbor Law that is intended to protect and secure services for sexually exploited youth who are to be treated as child victims within the justice system.

*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.

Do you know about Erin’s Law?

Erins law.jpgSometimes a good thing can come out of a very bad thing. That is, in many ways, the story behind Erin’s Law.

The bad thing is sexual abuse of a child – first by a neighbor and then by a cousin. The good thing is the fact that the victim – Erin Merryn, now 31 and a mother – not only spoke up, but became the driving force behind a law that has now been passed in 28 states, including Delaware, where Junior League members had a lot to do with its passage there.

erin-merrynErin Merryn is the force behind Erin’s Law. Beginning in 2010, she launched a forceful campaign to pass a sexual abuse curriculum in all 50 states. (The first Erin’s Law was passed in her home state of Illinois.) The law brings changes that are both simple and profound. Simple because it requires that all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented, age- appropriate abuse prevention program from pre-K to 12th grade. Profound because no formal school-based, state-wide program existed before the first Erin’s Law passed.

Delaware came to be the 28th state to pass Erin’s Law because Junior League of Wilmington members got behind it…and took their commitment to the State House.

JLW, which has been focusing its community impact efforts on improving the health and well-being of children for more than five years, became involved in the campaign after member Susan Coulby saw Merryn on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and learned that Delaware had not yet adopted Erin’s Law.

On behalf of JLW, member Dionna Sargent coordinated the 10-member Erin’s Law Task Force, a legal process that preceded the introduction of the bill.

State Senator Margaret Rose Henry – a JLW sustaining member – introduced the legislation after the Task Force brought the measure to her attention. The Task Force then continued to advocate for the bill by providing research, raising awareness among community members and child welfare organizations and agencies, including the Beau Biden Foundation; delivering testimony to the Senate Education Committee, to the House Administration Committee and on the Senate floor; and reaching out to individual legislators to request that they vote “yes.” (JLW notes that the passage of Erin’s Law inspired a return to legislative advocacy for the League, which took the lead in the adoption of Delaware’s Foster Care Review Act more than 35 years ago.)

Finally, in August, Delaware Governor Jack Markell joined Senator Henry and other League members for a special signing ceremony at JLW headquarters.

As JLW President Stephanie Graev said, “Passage of Erin’s Law in Delaware shows what the hard work, persistence, determination and teamwork of a group of dedicated women can accomplish.”

We agree.

*This article was originally published in connected, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.


The Junior League of Phoenix is participating in AJLI’s national voter registration and vote campaign! The Public Affairs Committee (PAC) will be spearheading our efforts to register Leaguers and others to vote.
We will be using the #JLVoterReg to share our efforts with our Junior League sisters around the nation and to highlight our collective impact.
There are three easy ways to vote in Arizona:
  • Online: if you have an Arizona drivers license or an I.D. card, you can register online .
  • By Mail: You can print a form here and mail it to your county recorder.
  • In Person: All PAC committee members have forms available and will host tables at our community events during the month of October and at the October GMM.
You must be registered by October 10th in order to vote in the general elections. Have other questions about registering to vote? Visit the Secretary of State’s office for more information.
The Public Affairs Committee has already taken the #JLVoterReg pledge – thank you! We hope to see other teams participate as well and share your pledge on our Facebook and Instagram pages!


VOTE! But first you have to register!

It’s no secret that a significant election is scheduled for November 8th. Voters may not be eligible to vote, however, unless they are registered. This is the drive behind National Voter Registration Day on September 27th.

Sponsors of National Voter Registration Day, or NVRD, say that 6 million Americans didn’t vote in 2008 because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register. On Sept. 27th, NVRD will address that problem by putting volunteers at transportation hubs, retail stores, sporting events, and concerts; activating a network of grassroots, local organizations engaged in their own communities; and using technology to help eligible voters find registration drives nearby and register to vote online.

NVRD says that it is a non-partisan group led by the Bipartisan Policy Center, League of Women Voters, Bus Federation, Rock the Vote, Voto Latino, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), Fair Elections Legal Network, Nonprofit VOTE, and National Association of Secretaries of State. (A wide range of nonprofits are involved as NVRD partners at the national and local levels, including a number of Junior Leagues.)

Nonprofits are also heavily engaged in register-to-vote efforts through an organization called Nonprofit VOTE, which is a major supporter of NVRD. Nonprofit VOTE claims more than 114 state and national partners, representing more than 65,210 nonprofits nationally. Its partners promote non-partisan voter engagement to their affiliates, members, constituents and peers, including encouraging and assisting members in conducting voter engagement work.

Vision 2020 is a national coalition of individuals and organizations in all 50 states working together for women’s economic, political and social equality in the United States. Vision 2020 wants to get women voting in record numbers across the nation.

Want to learn more about voting? Check out the League of Women Voters’ VOTE411.org, designed to be a “one-stop-shop” for election-related information at the federal, state and local levels along with online access to absentee ballot information, early voting options and election dates along with voter registration information.

And to drill into voting statistics, try Statistic Brain, a free online research resource that offers up such statistics as total number of Americans registered to vote, voter registration by demographics and top reasons for not voting.



*This article was originally published in The Civic Lede, an official publication of The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc., and has been reprinted with permission.  The Civic Lede spotlights notable developments in philanthropy, not-for-profits, women’s interests, voluntarism and leadership, and offers commentary on the issues on which The Junior League has been active for many years.