In 1924, a visionary young Columbia debutante, Katharine Heath, gathered a group of her close friends interested in improving the community and organized the Junior League of Columbia. Ninety years later, the organization that began with 29 women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and strengthening the health and well-being of children and families has grown to a membership of 1,500 women with a strong legacy of community service.
Over those 90 years, we have championed a variety of causes, from literacy to childhood health, from arts funding to domestic violence. In the 1940s and ’50s, league members led the charge for smoke-abatement policies, which laid the groundwork for the modern clean air law. When school readiness appeared to be a problem in the 1980s, we established the Smart Matters program to encourage reading among students and parents.
More recently, we have turned to childhood nutrition, organizing informative Kids in the Kitchen events and serving more than 300 Midlands children each year at a free Healthy Kids Fair. We also were instrumental in founding Sistercare, CASA (formerly guardians ad litem), the Children’s Trust of South Carolina, the Friends of the Richland Library and more.
During our 2013-14 year, our members logged 47,469 volunteer hours and raised nearly $300,000 to support our community projects, training and support services. Working with such partners as Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter, Therapy Place and Epworth Children’s Home, the league organized events and programming to improve children’s health, and we awarded $115,000 to such nonprofits as Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, St. Lawrence Place, Canoeing for Kids, Healthy Learners, My First Books and Sistercare.
In honor of the 90th anniversary, the League also awarded $90,000 to the Autism Academy of South Carolina. In this way, we are making a lasting community impact for future generations. We will launch a second round of community enrichment grants on May 15. Please visit www.jlcolumbia.org for details.
On behalf of the league, we thank Miss Heath for being that woman who started it all. We thank the amazing female leaders the league has fostered over the years who have made significant impacts in our community by leading businesses, pursuing public offices, championing causes and growing families. And we look forward to the continued work and accomplishments of future members for years to come.
Vice President of Communications
Junior League of Columbia