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A League of Their Own

The Junior League of Detroit

If you’re interested in getting involved in your community, meeting many great women, and learning new skills, then the Junior Women’s League of Detroit (JWLD) is for you. Founded nationwide in 1901 and locally in 1914, its mission has been promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.

“Forty-seven women started our League, and its first project was in 1915, when it created a lunchroom [on Woodward Avenue] to provide nutritious meals for working women,” says Kimberly Burke, its current president. “There were no lunchrooms for women in Detroit at that time. This was the beginning of a process where the League identifies needs in the community and helps to fulfill those needs for women and children.”

One of the ways they accomplish this is by holding fundraisers. “Our largest fundraising event is the Designers’ Show House, which takes place every two years and really helps fund us for the next cycle,” she says.

Last month, the chosen home was a manor-style home known as the House on the Hill on Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Farms. “We basically take a historical home in Detroit or Grosse Pointe and have designers come in and design all the different rooms in the home. It's an opportunity for the community to support the League and our causes, but also to take a look at some beautifully decorated homes and get some ideas for themselves.”

On alternate years, the organization holds a Holiday Jubilee. “It's a very festive dress-up event during the holidays, and people can come and have a good time,” says Sandra Davis, its public relations chair for the Show House event and chair of its public relations, marketing and website committee. “There’s a dinner and sometimes we have an auction or a raffle.”

Other fun fundraising events held throughout the year have included Painting with a Twist and a Walk at the Zoo. “During Covid, one of our members, who is a wonderful chef, did an online cooking class fundraiser, and we also had a photographer take family pictures,” says Kimberly.

The monies raised are used for a variety of great causes. These include scholarships for female high school seniors who are pursuing higher education, grants that are given to nonprofit organizations, and the undertaking of projects within the community.

One of its most recent and larger projects was developing a pantry for the Empowerment Plan, which focuses on breaking the cycle of homelessness through employment. JWLD provided two healthy meals a day for 50 weeks to 50 of their participants and 80 of their children. A lunch-and-learn program was also implemented so these women could sit down on their break and learn how to make soup or a healthy tuna salad.

“We fund many different projects, and a lot of them are in the health arena, which as a nurse interested me,” says Sue Webb Dickson, its sustainer council director. “We've worked a lot in the area of infant mortality, have held community baby showers, and with Children's Hospital of Michigan, put together a pediatric mobile van with a doctor and nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant who provide physicals for kids.

“Another thing we did - and none of us are producers or anything like that - was a video. It was called Hospice, a Shared Experience, and it won a national award.”

Through JWLD, members who have no background in certain areas get to increase their knowledge and learn new things. “I've been chair of the Grants and Scholarships Committee, and I really didn't have any experience with that before,” says Sandra. “But, by being a chair of that committee and working with a team of people, I learned how to become a better leader, learned about my community, and learned how to work with the other women around me.”

She adds, “This experience and the experience of actually going out and being hands-on, whether it's tutoring or helping to paint rooms at Brilliant Detroit, or helping to put together gifts for the holidays so children in underserved areas can have something to look forward to, makes us all stronger and better.”

The minimum age to join the League is 21, but there’s no maximum age limit. “I had this image of these little old ladies with long white gloves who did not look like me, but then I was invited to a recruitment event and it just changed my perspective altogether,” says Sandra. “It’s such a diverse range of women.”

To learn more about volunteering with the Junior Women’s League of Detroit and/or to help support its mission, go to

Quote: “Everyone’s welcome in the League, and I think people really understand that when they see it in action.”