Earlier this month, Junior League of Chicago President Melissa Schumacher appeared on the Hubbard Helps radio program to talk about the JLC’s impact on the Chicago community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read below for a transcript of the interview or click the player below to listen.
Welcome to Hubbard Helps, a program that spotlights the people and organizations making a difference in Chicago. Now here’s your host, Rachel Kelso.
Rachel Kelso: Thanks for joining us. Action and leadership: These are the two values of the Junior League of Chicago dedicated to developing the potential of at-risk women and children and transforming communities.
The JLC helps break down the barriers that hold back those who are more disadvantaged from improving themselves and the communities that they call home. With us this morning to talk more about the organization is Melissa Schumacher, president of the Junior League of Chicago. Melissa, thank you for joining us this morning.
You’re the president of the Junior League of Chicago. What led you to this role and how long have you been working with the organization?
Melissa Schumacher: Well, years ago, when I was living in Atlanta, Georgia, I was introduced to the Junior League after having attended one of their fundraisers. I knew it was a great organization committed to helping women and children. And I wanted to be a part of it a few years later, after moving back home to Illinois, I joined the Junior League of Chicago. I couldn’t think of a better way to give back to a place so near and dear to my heart than to commit to improving the health and wellbeing of women, children, and families in this great city. Through my membership in the Junior League, I’ve been a member for 12 years now.
Rachel Kelso: What are some of the different programs and projects that your organization supports?
Melissa Schumacher: For over a century. The Junior League has worked diligently to empower underserved families, particularly women and children, through hands-on mentoring, advocacy, and education. We support 12 community projects with partners across the city, which include Associate Community Experience, Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, Connecting Kids to the Arts, Done in a Day, Girls All Star Club, Freeing Individuals From Human Trafficking, Journey to Healthy Living, Kids in the Kitchen, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Mad Hatters, Teen Exodus, and the Women’s Treatment Center.
Rachel Kelso: That’s amazing.
Melissa Schumacher: Yes, it is. Thank you.
Rachel Kelso: Diversity and inclusion are core values of the JLC. How is the organization working to combat racism, sexism, and other biases in the community?
Melissa Schumacher: In 2018, our board adopted a commitment to Diversity Equity & Inclusion as part of our mission. There are two ways that we are working to fulfill this commitment, today. First we believe in trained volunteers.
Our goal is to ensure that all of our members have access to training and resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics.
Some of the training opportunities we have provided this year have centered around topics like white privilege, intersectionality, allyship, and microaggressions.
We believe that we cannot address issues like poverty, homelessness, and education disparities, without understanding our community’s history with racism and other forms of discrimination. So, we see training our volunteers on these topics as vital to our work in the community.
Second, we are making investments and proactively recruiting more diverse members in our league while we have always welcomed any woman that identifies with our mission to join as a member, we’ve not always done a good job of proactively recruiting women from diverse backgrounds.
Melissa Schumacher: We have tended to rely on word of mouth to grow our membership. We are committed to changing this because we believe in the power of women’s voices to create change in the community. We want to amplify diverse voices to advocate on the issues that impact women and children in Chicago. We believe that with a more diverse membership, we can have a greater impact in the community.
This past fall, we created a five-year strategy to integrate this commitment more directly into our operations and programming. Our ultimate goal is to be able to champion diversity equity inclusion outside of our league. But to do that, we first need to build the foundation from within our organization. We have a lot more work to do, but I’m excited about where we’re going.
Rachel Kelso: I’m excited for you. That sounds like an amazing step that you’ve taken as well as a great future to look forward to for the organization. How has the JLC been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Melissa Schumacher: Our members have come together to support each other and the Chicagoland community alike. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a sharp increase in need-based programming. As people across Chicago are navigating this crisis. And, the JLC’s focus on meeting essential needs, violence prevention and literacy are more important than ever.
To support these efforts, the Junior League has enhanced our existing programming through increased direct donations of a variety of products like hygiene and grooming products, books, and children’s toys, the addition of prerecorded health and wellness content and enhanced virtual tutoring and mentoring sessions to give a well-rounded support structure to our community partners.
Rachel Kelso: Why is it so important for women to develop the leadership and community engagement skills that you teach?
Melissa Schumacher: This is a great question, and one that points directly back to our mission. The Junior League of Chicago is an organization committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving our community through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. It is so crucial for women to develop these skills for a few reasons. Our training provides the framework for leaders to become experts at volunteerism.
Furthermore, the skills, education, and training done with our members can be translated back to their jobs, other community service experiences and our life skills. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a member, please visit our website at jlchicago.org.
Rachel Kelso: So it seems like a gift that keeps on giving throughout the community and outside of the Junior League of Chicago. What are the best ways for those listening to help the Junior League of Chicago?
Melissa Schumacher: As a nonprofit organization, the Junior League of Chicago depends entirely on donations, both monetary and in-kind. A gift to the Junior League Annual Fund directly supports our mission of increasing the impact across the Chicago community, individual and corporate sponsorship opportunities are also available and crucial to the Junior League’s charitable initiatives, funding, and realization. We offer unique options aimed at connecting sponsors with not only our 1000 volunteers, but also our larger Chicago community. If you’re interested in donating, please visit our website at jlchicago.org.
Rachel Kelso: And finally, what is the most gratifying part of being president of the Junior League of Chicago?
Melissa Schumacher: Well, the most gratifying part of being the president of the Junior League is watching our members come together during this crisis. It hasn’t been easy on anyone and our members are no exception. We hosted our first virtual gala with over 300 attendees, both members and non-members. I was overwhelmed by their generosity through our silent auction, raffle and paddle raise. I was brought to tears several times throughout the program. I’m so proud of our members and the great work they are doing in our community.
Rachel Kelso: Well, Melissa, thank you so much for all that you and everyone at the Junior League of Chicago are doing for women, children, and families in our community. And I wish you all the best of luck in 2021 and beyond.
Melissa Schumacher: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you, Rachel.
Rachel Kelso: Our guest this morning has been Melissa Schumacher, president of the Junior League of Chicago for more information or to donate visit www.jlchicago.org. And that’s our show this week. Thank you for listening. I’m Rachel Kelso Hubbard helps is powered by Hubbard radio, making a difference in Chicago.
About Hubbard Helps
Hubbard Helps is a public affairs segment hosted by Rachel Kelso that airs every every Sunday morning on 97.1 FM The Drive, 101.9 FM The Mix, and SHE 100.3 FM, highlighting local people and organizations making an impact in the Chicagoland area.