Junior League of Syracuse celebrates 100 years

Since it was founded in 1920, the Junior League of Syracuse has worked to improve the community and provide women with leadership skills. Family Times recently talked to Julie Palmer, the organization’s VP for Communications, about the milestone.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

1. The Junior League of Syracuse is celebrating 100 years in 2020. How has the organization changed and evolved over that time?

One of the biggest ways we’ve evolved is that we used to be primarily an organization for women that were looking for an activity to do during the day, maybe when their husbands were at work, or looking for a way to meet other women. Today, more than ever, we focus on the leadership aspect of our mission rather than the social aspect that the Junior League has long been associated with. Leadership has always been a part of the mission of the league. It’s something that was really important to Mary Harriman, our founder. She felt like herself and her friends didn’t really have the necessary skills to make an impact as volunteers, so that was a part of her original mission. The role of the trained volunteer, who will go on to sit on a board, has always been at the heart of the League training. We have many women that sit on boards all over Central New York as a result of the training they get in the Junior League. But now, many of us are also able to take those skills, and the network that we’ve built through the League, to help us further our careers, which was not central to Mary Harriman’s thinking in the early 1900’s. Today, League members are increasingly doing this in partnership with our careers. Members used to have tremendous requirements for the things they had to do in parallel with their league membership. For example, they had to complete something like 20 hours of community service a month outside of their league activities. Nobody has the time to do that anymore. Now, most of our meetings are in the evening (they used to be during the day). We also have changed the way we structure our membership. Members used to have to be asked to join the Junior League, and then you had to have people who recommended you. Now we’re an organization that’s open to any woman who’s interested in joining. You have to go through a training course during your first year, but you don’t have to prove your worth or your connections because we believe all women are worthy of being a part of the JLS if they are willing to put the time into the membership.

2. What is your goal or mission?

The mission statement of Junior League of Syracuse can be broken down into three main components we abbreviate to PDI: Promoting volunteerism, Developing the potential of women and Improving the community.

3. What are some examples of community services projects you have done over the years?

The big ones that we always talk about are helping to found both the Erie Canal Museum and the MOST, but we have worked with many organizations over the course of the years. When we were trying to come up with organizations that would be part of our 100th year projects, we had over 100 that we had worked with on different kinds of projects. We’ve worked with Vera House for decades on helping women who have been in abusive relationships to provide the services they might need. We have had a real focus for about a decade on human trafficking. Some years, our community projects follow a theme and other years, we focus on working one community partner, for example recently most of our projects were with Chadwick Residence, teaching nutrition classes, building a book nook, etc. We also have had an annual STEM event for a number of years at Danforth Middle School. At that event, we introduce the girls to possible careers in STEM.

4. How are you celebrating your 100th year?

The theme of the 100th year is “A Salute to Our Past, Present, and Future.” We’ve been working with 10 organizations that we had relationships with already, partnering with them on projects that cost about $5,000. We chose partner organizations that we would be able to be a part of the project, not just where we would donate the money. That’s always part of what we’re looking for when we’re partnering with an organization; that we can have boots on the ground because otherwise we’re not fulfilling that training aspect for our women. We’re in the process of that. We’re not actually going to finish it off in 2020. Because of COVID, we had to pause over the spring and early summer. We’re also working with a new organization. We worked with Sleep in Heavenly Peace on one of their bed builds.

 5. How can Family Times readers get involved with your organization?

If women are interested in joining, we have two classes a year; we have a fall class and a spring class. The spring class will start in January. The other ways to support our mission are to be part of our fundraisers. We do a fall fundraiser and a spring fundraiser. We just finished up our fall fundraiser, Holiday Shoppes. Next year will be the 26th annual Holiday Shoppes. It’s a boutique shopping event. We get more than 100 merchants from all over to participate in that and it’s usually held at the Fairgrounds. And in the spring, we hold Night at the Derby at SKY Armory. There’s raffles and a lot of Kentucky Derby-themed activities.

6. Is there anything you would like to add?

The Junior League is probably not the organization that most people think it is. We have worked hard to change our image and a part of that is our concentrated focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. If you look at our website, we not only have a mission statement, but we also have a diversity and inclusion commitment statement. That’s something we’re really trying to integrate into every aspect of the League.

For more information about the Junior League of Syracuse, visit jlsyracuse.org.

2020 SALT Awards Move Online

The SALT (Syracuse Area Live Theater) Awards are returning for a 16th year – in a virtual format. The event will take place on December 5 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. via Facebook Live.

For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit thesaltawards.com.


Take Out Fridays Return to Salt City Market

Looking for dinner ideas? The Salt City Market will be hosting Takeout Fridays each week during
the month of December – vendors include Erma’s Island and Pie’s the Limit. Customers can begin placing pre-orders on the Wednesday of each week.

For more information, visit saltcitymarket.com.

For more community news, visit communityguide.familytimescny.com.



Courtney Kless is the Editor in Chief of Family Times. Courtney is originally from Maryland. She earned her Master’s degree in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism from Syracuse University. Courtney began her career as a sports journalist, then spent several years working in higher education, before joining the company in August 2019. She enjoys traveling, reading and hiking, and recently adopted a Labrador Retriever, Bailey.

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