Local organization helps women reach full potential


Sydney Laput

Kristen Sackley, Senior Associate Program Director for Gies College of Business, is the current president of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana. JLCU’s provides and promotes an open space for women who are dedicated to aiding the community through volunteering.

By Kiran Bond, Contributing Writer

When Mariah Young, a student conduct coordinator for the Office for Student Conflict Resolution at the University, moved to the Champaign-Urbana area in 2020, she sought a way to connect to the community.

Luckily, Young’s former supervisor at her University job introduced her to the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana.

“She (supervisor) said it was a great group of women, and she thought I would be able to connect with people and give back to the community,” Young said. “I looked it up, went to an informational meeting and then joined.”

The Junior League of Champaign-Urbana is an organization of local women who are committed to community welfare and leadership. Since 1932, the C-U chapter of JLCU has worked to promote volunteerism, overseen many outreach programs and helped their members reach their full potential as women. 

Lonndon Blake, JLCU president-elect, said that JLCU is always willing to lend a hand to anyone that needs help. 

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“We are ready to do whatever is needed to take care of this community,” Blake said.

The JLCU is part of the Association of Junior Leagues International, a woman-operated nonprofit organization that runs over 290 leagues across three continents. In 1932, a group of C-U women began working with several family-oriented clinics, a nursery, a teen center, tutoring programs and more. In 1972, the group officially became part of the AJLI.

Today, the JLCU has over 300 members and helps the community by supporting other nonprofits in the area, funding scholarship programs for local female high school students, fundraising and organizing projects.

One initiative that the JLCU operates is a local branch of Kids in the Kitchen, an international education program addressing problems of childhood nutrition and physical activity.

“It’s all about teaching young kids about healthy eating, nutrition and the importance of exercise and activity,” said Kristen Sackley, the current JLCU president.

The JLCU also partnered with the Urbana Early Childhood School and the Champaign County Head Start/Early Head Start to establish the Bright Starts program. In this program, children receive academic instruction that works to develop social and emotional skills, Blake said.

“This program was established because there was a waitlist in Champaign-Urbana for kiddos getting into Head Start,” Blake said. “It’s offered once a month and is free.”

Another initiative, the Nonprofit Assistance Collaboration Team, helps the JLCU connect with other nonprofits.

“A few years ago we started NPACT, which is a Nonprofit Assistance Collaboration Team,” Sackley said. “It has allowed us to partner with a different nonprofit organization every year through an application process.”

NPACT provides volunteers, financial assistance and expertise to the organization that JLCU is partnering with. Previous partners have included The Well Experience, Sistering CU, Wesley Food Pantry, CU at Austin’s Place and Crisis Nursery. 

This year, the current partner is The Family Room, a local nonprofit organization that aims to provide comfort and joy to children in temporary housing situations by providing care packs, clothing and other essentials. 

Young said that currently, women interested in joining the JLCU attend recruitment events during the summer, but Sackley said this might change to a rolling admission process in the future. 

“From there, we take them through their new member year, and within that year, they learn more in-depth about our mission, what our organization stands for, the different committees that we have (and) our projects,” Young said. “Once they finish the year, they can join as an active member and are placed on committees.”

All members, regardless of their committee status, can volunteer for any project.

Blake, Sackley and Young said that the JLCU has an impact on not only the community but the members too.

“My work within Junior League has made me more empathetic,” Blake said.

Sackley said that most of the people in her life are individuals she met during her time at JLCU.

“Almost every single friend that I have in my adult life is either someone I met in JLCU or somebody in JLCU introduced me to them,” Sackley said. “My life is completely different.”

“JLCU provides like a family outside of my own. I found a place to belong,” Young said. 

Young said that the JLCU was supportive when the pandemic affected her personally. 

“I lost some family members due to COVID-19 and they sent flowers to my house and continuously reached out to me to see how I was doing,” Young said. “JLCU has given me opportunities to improve different skill sets I didn’t even know I had that I now use in my professional life. As small of a person that I am, I’m impacting lives.” 

Blake said that anyone who wants to get involved in community outreach can and should try. 

“Everyone is a leader and there are a million ways to lead. Find what speaks to you,” Blake said.

Sackley said that being proactive in finding opportunities is the best way to find community work.

“Seek out opportunities,” Sackley said. “Go to any organization website that you think you might be interested in. Contact someone, people are usually really excited to talk to you about the work they’re doing.”

 Young said to not be afraid to step out of comfort zones. 

“You’d be surprised at what you find that truly fulfills you,” Young said.


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