The Junior League of Rockford has worked to improve the Rockford area by training women to be exceptional volunteer leaders. Junior League of Rockford members have researched, developed and implemented programs in our area that have impacted more than 10 million lives! Highlighted below are just a few of the community projects initiated and developed by the Junior League of Rockford that are still active, thriving organizations in our community today.
Ken-Rock Community Center (1930)
Ken-Rock Community Center was the Junior League of Rockford’s first community project in 1930 and became the focus of the Junior League for its first 20 years. Ken-Rock Community Center was incorporated in 1950 and serves all residents in the Rock River Valley through education, recreation and social service programs. Its mission to enhance the quality of life for individuals and families in recreation, education and social services in the Rock River Valley replicates the comfortable and community-oriented services they provide annually to over 58,000 citizens.
Washington Park Community Center (1957)
In 1956, the Junior League membership voted to develop the Washington Park Community Center. Today, the center provides area residents with facilities for play space and organized programs for children, as well as educational and counseling services for adults. Washington Park, now owned by the Rockford Park District, serves over 54,000 people each year.
Stepping Stones (1970)
Stepping Stones, a collaboration of the Junior League of Rockford, Winnebago County Mental Health Society, and Singer Mental Health Center, opened in April 1970. Today, it provides housing and rehabilitation services to adults with serious mental illness in the Rockford area, as well as community education and advocacy on behalf of persons with serious mental illnesses.
Bright Side Adult Day Center (1973)
The Junior League of Rockford and Protestant Community Services initiated Bright Side Day Care for the Elderly in 1973. The name was later changed to Bright Side Adult Day Center and became a part of Lifescape Community Services. Bright Side Adult Day Center has the distinction of being one of the first adult day programs in Illinois. The program assists older adults by providing community-based programming in a safe, welcoming environment. The program strives to keep families together by meeting the needs of adults who want to remain in the least restrictive environment but need supervision during the day.
Discovery Center Museum (1981)
In 1979, JLR membership voted to develop a new kind of museum in Rockford. The Junior League and the Rockford Council for the Arts and Sciences developed a hands-on children’s science museum. In the beginning, the members tested exhibit ideas by setting them up in their own basements for the kids in their neighborhood to try out. The Discovery Room started with 12 stations that were built by local volunteers and Junior League members and spouses. Today, the Discovery Center Museum has over 250 hands-on exhibits plus travelling exhibitions and special events. The museum was recently named a Top Ten Children’s Museum in a new book by National Geographic Society, The Ten Best of Everything: Families.
In 1986, the JLR in association with retired Judge Bradner Riggs initiated Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). The mission of Winnebago County CASA is to assist the court in seeking the best interests of abused and neglected children through court-appointed volunteer advocacy.
Youth Services Network (1986)
In 1986 JLR also initiated the Youth Services Network in collaboration with the Inter Agency Council of Representatives of Youth Service. Its aim was to prevent duplication of services to troubled youth and their families. Youth Services Network provides assistance to agencies such as police, sheriff, probation, and DCFS. The non-profit organization assists agencies in coordinating services to emotionally and mentally disturbed youth, pregnant and parenting teenagers, runaway and homeless youth, teenage drug and alcohol abusers, truant youth, sexually and physically abused children, and youth in foster care. Youth Services Network also provides direct services to youth and operates a youth homeless shelter. It is a model agency in the State of Illinois for innovative collaboration and coordination of services for troubled youth and their families.
Rock River Discovery Park (1991)
In June 1991, the Junior League of Rockford, the Rockford Park District, and the Discovery Center Museum completed the Rock River Discovery Park, the first community-built outdoor science park in the United States. The park, which is located directly adjacent to the Discovery Center Museum, was developed by a community steering committee composed of engineers, educators, parents, and students who worked under the leadership of New York based architect Bob Leathers. The Junior League was instrumental in organizing over 4,300 volunteers to help construct the park.
Domestic Violence Assistance Center (1998)
The Junior League of Rockford, along with WAVE and the 17th Circuit Court, organized the Domestic Violence Assistance Center to assist domestic violence victims in obtaining orders of protection against abusive partners and to educate the victims on breaking the cycle of violence. Originally, only 25% of the women who started the order of protection process carried through with it. Since the Assistance Center opened in June of 1998, the number of orders of protection that have been carried through to completion has improved each month. Junior League also created the Domestic Violence Order of Protection Information Line. A recorded message gives the caller information on what to do in an emergency situation, information about the Assistance Center, the specifics of obtaining an order of protection, and names of other agencies for help.
MAYA’S House (Mothers and Youth Attaining Stability) (2003)
In 2002, the Junior League of Rockford in collaboration with the Rock River Chapter of the American Red Cross and Rockford Public School District 205 developed MAYA’S House, a daytime drop-in center for homeless mothers and their children. MAYA’S House was the first center of its kind in the Rockford area, and one of a handful throughout the nation. MAYA’S House provides services in the areas of parenting, public health, literacy, mental health, life skills, and community referrals in addition to providing temporary daycare services and daytime respite. In 2005, Shelter Care Ministries became the managing partner of the MAYA’S House program and became the sole administrator in 2007.
RAISE (Reaching And Inspiring Students for Education) (2007)
In 2007, the Junior League of Rockford developed RAISE (Reaching And Inspiring Students for Education) in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Education and Lifelong Learning, the Community Education Partnership, and Rockford Public School District 205. The RAISE Program is aimed to increase access to and success in post high school education for financially disadvantaged, underrepresented and first generation college students from the Rockford Public School System. RAISE mentors work closely with juniors and seniors at Jefferson and Auburn High Schools to help identify each student’s interests, skills, and abilities, to navigate the college application process, to research specific colleges, and to set career goals. After-school workshops, open to all Jefferson and Auburn students, are held on college applications, ACT preparation, financial aid and college survival skills. Students also visit college campuses and participate in community service activities. In 2010, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the YMCA of Rock River Valley became a primary partner of the RAISE Program and became the sole administrator in 2011.
Girls On Their Way Leadership Program (2011)
In 2011, the Junior League of Rockford developed the Girls On Their Way Leadership Program. The Junior League hosted several retreats each year focusing on leadership training, team-building, voluntarism, creativity, self-esteem and confidence-building for girls ages 9-13. A number of the retreats were held at local organizations to teach them how to conduct GOTW Leadership retreats to include in their future programming. In 2013, the Girls On Their Way Program was turned over to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rockford.
Backpack Buddies (2013 – 2017)
The Backpack Buddies Program had an amazing final year! Packing over 6000 pounds of food providing close to 5000 meals for students in 5 RPS elementary school. In 2017, we turned the program over to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
Girls Who Code (2018-2020)
JLR partnered with Girls Who Code! a national non-profit organization whose mission is to educate, inspire and equip young women with the skills and resources to pursue academic and career opportunities in computing fields by working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. Why did we choose Girls who Code? This organization developed a nation-wide program with clubs in all 50 states who have served over 90,000 girls to date. They focus on serving underrepresented populations (socioeconomic, race, ethnicity, etc.) and they get results! Club alumni are largely choosing computer science and related fields (at a rate of 15 times the national average). Black and Latina alumni are pursuing these degrees at an even higher rate (16 times the national average).