SALT LAKE CITY — Shelley Mortensen has considered becoming a member of the Junior League for several years. Yet each time she looks into it, she hesitates.
"I'm not sure if I fit the mold of a typical member; but at the same time, I'm not positive I know what the mold looks like either," said Mortensen a social worker in Salt Lake City. "I'm attracted to the good they do in the community, but there's some mystery to what members actually do and the expectations of being a member of the Junior League."
While images from Hollywood movies, such as The Help, portray a specific stereotype, the Junior League in Salt Lake City is unexpectedly diverse. The group is made up of around 450 women, and statistics from its 2012 membership show the following:
- 69 percent are married
- 78 percent are employed full time
- 5 percent are full-time homemakers
- 22 percent are between the ages of 26 and 30
- 28 percent are between the ages of 31 and 35
- 19 percent are between the ages of 36 and 40
- 21 percent are over age 40
- 41 percent have been members for 6 - 15 years
- 8 percent are enrolled in school
- 29 percent have a master's degree
"Our members volunteered over 21,000 hours in 2012," said Junior League community vice president, Heather Bertotti Sarin. "The expectation is to volunteer with our various community projects."
The League has a history of partnering with other organizations to help launch projects that address a need in the community. The League supports these projects with funds and volunteers with the goal of the program becoming self-sufficient within a few years. All of the programs support the League's mission of improving the lives of women and children. Some of their past projects in Salt Lake City may not be recognized as a Junior League legacy today, but the League has played a key role in launching many local organizations and services including the Family Support Center, the Art Barn, Wheeler Farm, The Sharing Place and the Rape Recovery Center.
The most recent Junior League of Salt Lake City project was the Educating Parents Investing in Children program. The program involved collaboration with Salt Lake CAP Head Start at Palmer Court, Salt Lake City's largest permanent supportive housing development for the homeless. Junior League members hosted monthly sessions to mentor and educate residents and their children toward improving self-sufficiency.
The League also maintains three ongoing projects:
- The Junior League CARE Fair, a free two-day event held each summer to provide medical care and assistance to families;
- Kids in the Kitchen, a program that educates at-risk kids in making healthy food and activity choices to decrease childhood obesity rates; and
- Women Helping Women, a clothing boutique for women with limited funds looking to find job-appropriate clothing.
"It's very rewarding to see how we are impacting the community and helping others to become self-sufficient," said Bertotti Sarin. "With our Women Helping Women boutique, our clients are very grateful to get free business clothing. We had a women the other evening who was working in housekeeping at a local resort and was planning to interview for a front desk job. At our boutique she was able to find some outfits to help her achieve her promotion. The benefits of volunteering are many—it feels good to give back to the community."
And even though the League continues to expand the good it does in the community, they could do more with a greater number of members.
"One of the reasons I've hesitated to join is the process to join seems fairly intense," said Mortensen.
The application process is different than that of most volunteer organizations. For the first few months, potential members are involved in a training program and a hands-on introduction to the League's projects and fundraisers. During this time, potential members are called "provisionals." There are two provisional classes, one in September and the other in February. Each class ends with the provisionals being voted into active membership.
"The goal is that provisionals become familiar with and volunteer at our various projects," said Junior League of Salt Lake City president, Kristin Kraus. "It's important that our members understand the needs in the community as well as the ways in which we address those needs. We want them to be a part of it all. Volunteering at our annual CARE Fair event, where we provide medical and dental services to more than 3,100 people in two days, and having the opportunity to help a woman find the perfect professional outfit at our Women Helping Women boutique connects members to our mission."
The provisional process has changed over the years. In the past, potential members were required to have various recommendations to join as well as attend weekly meetings for a year. Now the League has spring and fall classes each year, and the Junior League of Salt Lake City doesn't require sponsors. And although women must be 21 years old to join the League, there is no upper age limit for members.
"We understand that everyone has busy schedules—95% of our active members work outside the home," said Kraus. "We welcome all women who are passionate about helping in the community and want the opportunity to socialize with other dynamic and community-oriented women. We hope women reading this will join us."
As for Mortensen's membership potential? "Networking with women to make a difference in the community is important to me and after learning more about the process and the good the League does in the community, they can plan on seeing me at the next open house in January."