ENID, Okla. — Search Merriam-Webster for the word “junior” and you’ll find few definitions considered: “inferior,” “lesser” and “subordinate” are among those listed. However, there’s nothing inferior about the work or the women of the Junior Welfare League of Enid.
JWL is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with an 89-year history of helping to meet the needs of children and families in the Enid area. The members of the all-volunteer organization are women with diverse backgrounds and personal experiences — from doctors and nurses to law enforcement officers, teachers, coaches and more. The members use these perspectives to find and fill needs in the community that might otherwise go unnoticed.
JWL’s given “more than $1 million to help worthy causes” according to the organization’s website, including more than $50,000 to benefit foundations for Enid, Chisholm and Garber public schools last year.
“Our mission each year is to do more than the year before,” said Tara Coleman, current JWL president.
Coleman said the organization primarily raises funds in three ways: First, by operating “an upscale consignment store” in downtown Enid called Return Engagement; second, by selling two cookbooks, “Stir Ups” and “Cooking by the Bootstraps,” full of recipes submitted by JWL members; and, third, by organizing an annual charity gala that includes an evening of entertainment and live auctions.
All JWL members make a six-year commitment and receive no monetary compensation for their work, Coleman said. As a result, the organization operates with little overhead and donates to an array of individuals and organizations in the greater Enid area.
“The more money we can raise, the more we are able to give,” Coleman said.
Each year, the League receives applications from agencies hoping to be beneficiaries of the group’s charity gala, Coleman said. Funds normally are distributed in April, but COVID-19 mitigation efforts have prompted the group to reschedule the presentations for May, she said. This year’s beneficiaries are 4RKids Foundation, Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative, Youth and Family Services of North Central Oklahoma an d YWCA Enid Crisis Center. Donations have been earmarked for mobility improvements, workshops for the elderly, staff training and facility upgrades, respectively.
JWL’s contributions don’t start and stop with the gala, however. Throughout the year, the League’s Care to Share program coordinates with public school counselors in the Enid area to help students in need of school supplies, clothing, shoes, personal hygiene items and more. These needs are identified by teachers and counselors who then reach out in confidence to the League member assigned to work with that school. JWL purchases new or like-new items to fill the needs and delivers the items to the school counselor for distribution to students, often within 24 hours of the receiving the request, Coleman said. All student information is kept confidential, and students often have no idea JWL was involved, or even that their teachers submitted the requests, Coleman added.
The Care to Share program also distributes hats and gloves to the pre-kindergarten students at Carver Early Childhood Center in Enid each fall, Coleman said. JWL uses the program to make a difference for one or two “Wish” families at Christmas, she said. In 2019, the League was able to assist two families, one that suffered losses due to a house fire and the other a single mother and her four children who escaped domestic violence.
Coleman explained that first-year JWL members, called provisional members, also are responsible for organizing their own community service project each year. The class of 2018 raised funds by selling bracelets made by Rustic Cuff and used the proceeds to pay off school lunch debts for students in Enid, Chisholm, Waukomis, Garber and Pond Creek-Hunter public schools. The 2019 class worked with RSVP of Enid and North Central Oklahoma to adopt nearly 20 low-income seniors and supplied them with warm clothing, blankets and other items they’d requested, Coleman said.
In addition to the League’s financial contributions, all JWL members spend hours each year volunteering for various organizations in the community, Coleman said, including United Way of Enid and Northwest Oklahoma, Hope Outreach Ministries, Loaves & Fishes of Northwest Oklahoma and Youth and Family Services.
Membership in JWL
Membership in the Junior Welfare League is open to women who have lived in Enid for at least 3 months. Nominations are submitted in January, and new members start in June.
“We welcome anyone with a passion for giving and a servant’s heart,” Coleman said.
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