Serving the Community for over 95 years
The Junior League of Bridgeport, Connecticut was founded on July 7, 1920 by 47 women, to foster interest in the social, economic, educational, cultural, and civic conditions in the City of Bridgeport, to make voluntary service efficient, and to raise funds for the work for which the League was responsible. The Occupational Therapy program at Bridgeport Hospital was the largest and most successful League Project in the 1920s. League members trained recuperating hospital patients to sew and weave clothing, which was then sold to the public through the hospital and local shops.
Throughout the 1920s the League sponsored a variety of fundraising events including opening events at the Majestic Theatre in Bridgeport, a Circus Review at the Pyramid Mosque, as well as fashion shows, revues and exhibits. Members also presented children’s plays, transcripted materials to Braille, and ran a thrift shop.
During this decade, the Junior League of Bridgeport focused its efforts on four goals: develop efficient volunteer services, develop self-sustaining community projects, increase membership, and earn a respected place in the Greater Bridgeport community. Through the Depression, members devoted a great deal of time to welfare services including the distribution of milk, flour, and clothing. In 1938 the League helped to form the Children’s Theatre and The Crippled Children’s Workshop. Fundraising reached an all-time high in the early thirties with events such as Reads’ Store Day, Botek Beach Day, fashion shows, and a Russian Cossack Chorus. A roller skating party and 43 performances of the Marionettes supported expenses in the mid-30’s.
During the 1940’s, the League’s efforts were directed towards the war. The Red Cross Corp and Hospital Council were started. These organizations provided equipment, supplies, and services for the men and women in Army posts and Naval stations within the United States. The Crippled Children’s Workshop continued successfully through the decade. After two years of research and preparation, the League opened The Cancer Detection Clinic. The Clinic was successfully established and turned over to the State Cancer Society within ten years. Another important project of the forties was “Books Bring Adventure,” a children’s radio program which promoted interest in books and was targeted at children ages 7 to 14.
Fundraising events of the forties were limited due to the war, but an auction and pop concerts successfully supported League projects. The Hobby Horse Shop, a consignment shop, opened, beginning a long-term source of funds for League efforts.
In the 1950s, The League’s efforts focused on the Wonder Workshop, the foundation of the Discovery Museum. The Wonder Workshop was voted in as a new project in 1950 and within a year the League had hired a curator and acquired three rooms in the North Branch Library for the project. The following year the Workshop hosted 23 exhibits, after-school activities, Saturday morning programs, and a Puppet Institute. By 1956, there had been over 40,000 admissions and visits by 55 groups (e.g., schools, scouts).
The end of the decade saw the lease of 90 acres of parkland, groundbreaking and fundraising for what was to become the Discovery Museum (formerly the Museum of Arts, Science, and Industry). By the end of the decade the Junior League had contributed over $72,000 and countless volunteer hours to develop the workshop into a self-sustaining organization.
The Hobby Horse Shop continued to be a key source of funds throughout the 1950s. Other fundraising events included a ”Follies,” a “Cabaret” and “April Rhapsody” at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford.
Throughout the 1960s, League members developed and staffed a wide variety of highly successful programs geared toward educating area children. Most visible today is the Beardsley Zoo Project, developed to provide educational zoo tours to area children. “Zoo to You” brought animal and wildlife education to children at Bridgeport Hospital, and the League contributed $10,000 toward the construction of the seal pool and house.
The League developed two highly successful supplementary learning programs. “Art Goes to School,” a program linking fine arts and social studies at the elementary school level reached over 7,500 5th and 6th grade students in the Greater Bridgeport Area. In 1969 the program became part of the School Volunteers Association. The YOU project (Youth Opportunity Unlimited) for children in Father Panik Village, coordinated the educational efforts of 24 agencies, 17 business clubs, 15 civic clubs, 13 church groups, 34 companies, and involved over 235 volunteers. The project served as a model for other programs during this time and received numerous honors and awards.
During the 1970s, the League’s efforts reflected the concerns of the nation, while continuing their focus on area youths. The League was involved with an urban coalition, reflecting the national concern for affirmative action and endorsed a proposal to build moderate income housing in Fairfield. The League also co-sponsored a “hot-line” telephone referral service for youths in crisis. Other League projects included the restoration of the downtown Bridgeport theatres now known as Downtown Cabaret Theatre, James House and Bridgeport Center for the Arts.
In 1970 the League celebrated fifty years of community service with the premier presentation of FUSION, a full color 16 mm film focusing on urban-suburban relations. The film highlighted the differences and similarities between teenagers in Bridgeport and those in the surrounding suburbs and was donated to area libraries as a springboard for discussion groups.
In the 1980s, the League focused its efforts on children, education, and community activities reflecting concerns of the times: health, fitness, and substance abuse. The League also changed its name to the Junior League of Eastern Fairfield County to reflect the larger area that it serves.
Action was taken in favor of a law banning the sale of drug paraphernalia and the “Me-Ology” training program trained over 160 teachers in drug abuse prevention, reaching over 12,000 students. The League also established a Kiosk at the Fairfield Public Library with books, pamphlets, and other literature on substance abuse.
In collaboration with American Heart Association, Children’s Healthy Hearts trained teachers to teach upper-elementary school students how to reduce the risks of heart disease. The program won the American Heart Association’s Schoolsite Task Award and the Outstanding Program Award for the State of Connecticut.
Additional community projects included: a continued association with the Beardsley Zoo, The Corporate Program for Active Voluntarism, and a Drop-Out Prevention Program targeting at-risk youths in Bridgeport’s Longfellow School. Members also served the community by preparing and serving food to the homeless through Operation Hope, donating food to St. Luke’s Food Pantry, and donating diapers to Birthright.
During the 1990s, the League continued to adapt to its changing environment and membership, streamlining its operations and consolidating committees. Membership changes continued through the decade, most notably with the removal of age restrictions for membership and the shortening of the provisional course. In 1992 the League moved its headquarters to its current location on the third floor of the Burr Homestead on the Old Post Road in Fairfield.
The decade was also marked by the development of numerous community projects. The Environmental Project educated the public on the reduction and recycling of solid waste, sponsored beach clean-ups and an environment section was donated to the children’s section of the Fairfield Public Library. The New Beginnings project received the Volunteer Center Award in 1997 for preventing child abuse and neglect among high risk new mothers at St. Vincent’s Hospital. The League also contributed $10,000 to the Emergency Shelter project, a collaboration with the Interfaith Council of Westport/Weston to establish temporary housing for women and children. In 1993 the Reading Enrichment/Dropout Prevention Project was cited in the Longfellow School Principal’s Annual Report to the Superintendent as a reason for marked improvement in student’s reading scores.
In the early 1990s, a cross functional team was formed to begin the process of focusing our League’s resources for greater community impact. This team of 12 women researched community needs and assessed the interests and strengths of members. In 1995, League members voted in a new focus: Parental Skills and Education. The first project initiated under this focus was the Parent Support Center, located at Family Matters in Bridgeport, a collaborative effort between several agencies in Bridgeport and Calvary Episcopal Church. The Center helps area residents build their parenting skills and strengthen their families. The League added a playground and refurbished the clothes pantry and clothing closet.
The League also created a Helping Hands Committee to organize done-in-a-day projects for League participation. This committee also coordinates the League’s monthly cooking for Operation Hope.
The League has held a variety of fundraisers during the 1990’s but ultimately set forth the goal to establish ongoing signature fundraisers supported by the public. With our current fundraisers: Autumn Splendor House Tour, Art Show and “Make A Note of It” stationary sales, the League has reached its fundraising goal.
We celebrated our 80th anniversary in 2000 with a gala at the Discovery Museum that raised over $21,000. In the early parts of this decade the League devoted countless hours to the Bridgeport Child Care Center. Research was conducted, a partnership was entered into with the YMCA and a large lot adjacent to Marina Village was identified. The League partnered with Kaboom to build a state-of-the-art playground on the site, and over $150,000 has been raised and set aside for the project. The League and YMCA continue to look for additional funding via government and private grants to see this much needed center built.
A focus on Health, Nutrition and Literacy was formally adopted in 2009, which has lead to many exciting new projects including Leaguers Building Readers, which collected over 11,000 gently used books in its inaugural year in 2010. With the help of our partners, United Way of Coastal Connecticut and Read to Grow, the books are distributed to families in need. Studies have shown that when it comes to determining the education level a child will achieve, having books in the home is as important as having highly educated parents.
Cooking Parties for the Operation Hope Food Panty also launched later in the first decade of the Millennium. JLEFC members gather to prepare as many as 150 meals for the Food Pantry freezer. Just a small portion of the 80,000 meals Operation Hope provides in any given year to those in need in the Fairfield area.
A focus on nutrition also led to collaborative work with the women of Mercy Learning Center. Together with some nutrition experts the JLEFC has lead cooking demonstrations, field trips to local farmers markets and more to educate these women on how they can use healthy ingredients in their everyday cooking.
It will be another exciting decade for the JLEFC as we grow and shift along with our changing community and world!