Can you first start off introducing yourself, and talk about your involvement with the Junior League? My name is Abby Hobbs. I have lived in Champaign for almost 26 years. My background is in Public Relations and special event-planning, fundraising, that kind of thing. While in Champaign, for most of the time, I’ve been a really active volunteer. I did do a stint of paid work for Champaign County YoungLife, which is a nondenominational Christian Outreach Ministry. [As for] my involvement with Junior League, I joined almost right when I moved here, when my children were young. I really was involved with all the different aspects of JL. I first got involved with the community projects, but then was also involved in Membership Development, nominating and placement of members in their different jobs. I was also involved in fundraising for a little bit, and I actually got to be President for a year while I was a member– lots of different experiences, which was great because it was nice to see all the different sides of the organization. I am currently a Sustainer […] which is exactly what we do– we pay dues to the organization to sustain their work, and then there are occasional Sustainer events, and they reach out to us for help with different events now and then.
26 years ago… what attracted you to join Junior-League? Two different things: At the time, the training aspect of JL didn’t necessarily attract me. I had done previous work in special events and fundraising, and felt like I knew how to run an event. But, I ended up learning a TON and ended up getting really great training, but that wasn’t what attracted me at first. Because I was brand new to the community, and because my husband grew up here, I kind of wanted to make my own friends… so I liked the idea of joining Junior League and making these connections. I really did meet people in JL who I would have never met in other circles, or our paths wouldn’t have crossed. They were working at the University, or didn’t have children, or had older children. It was a great way to broaden my friendships. I knew enough about JL as an international organization to know that they are really well-known for making an impact in the community, so I thought “Okay, if I can make friends and get involved with an organization, then that would really make sense for me.”
Have you found meaningful friendships from JL over the years?Absolutely. I will see people I was on a committee with years ago, and it’s like we have never not seen each other, and we just kind pick right back up. So many times, I feel like some pretty cool relationships forge when you’re working together on some sort of community project. The very first project that I worked on was so much fun. It was back in the day when inclusion for children with mental and physical challenges was just really starting to hit the scene […] This was a time when students and families were weary of students with challenges being mainstreamed into their classroom. In the elementary schools in Champaign, we did life-size puppet shows. Usually one of these puppets had a disability, and the other one was a child with no disabilities. […] We would go into classrooms, and talk to kids about other kids with disabilities about how they were just kids, like they were. It was unbelievable! These second and third graders started communicating with these puppets like they were real people, asking them questions. They would be brutally honest– “Well why are you in that wheelchair? Why does your voice sound like that? Do you go to the bathroom like I do?” It was the coolest thing to see kids really engaging with these puppets. That was my first Junior League experience, and some of the friends I made during that project are still my friends today. It forms this foundation that lasts a lifetime.
In your own words, how would you describe Junior League’s mission? What do you think are the main opportunities it provides for community members? I think its mission is threefold. It is empowering women through great training opportunities to be ready to make an impact in the community, all while building relationships and encouraging fellowship among people who care about their community. There are organizations in Champaign-Urbana that were started from scratch from JL that exist today and to this day are making a big impact in kids’ and families’ lives. Crisis Nursery is one that I think of that is very near and dear to the hearts of the JL. It is such a great asset to our community. I think it used to be that JL had this “pearls and white gloves” feel to it, with hoity-toity women who just kind of give their money to projects. I really do believe that JL has made enough of an impact in these communities that people don’t think that anymore. They know that we are roll-up-our-sleeves women, who are really willing to get into the trenches and do the work– whether it’s literally getting into the trenches and building a playground for Courage Connection, or whether it’s helping organize a fundraiser, or helping training board members. I think that we’ve built a good reputation in the community that people trust us to make a difference.
What would you like to see from JL in the future? I really love the direction they are going in right now. As opposed to creating new projects on their own, they are teaming with other nonprofits in town to help them with something they need help with. I think whoever you volunteer with in Champaign-Urbana, you come to the conclusion quickly that there are a lot of organizations out there with a lot of financial needs. If JL can put their resources, both manpower and financial resources, towards another nonprofit that’s really trying to accomplish something great that’s part of the JL philosophy, it makes a lot of sense to come to their aid. I also really like the idea of increasing the training goal a little bit more. We have had some different training opportunities [in the past], and I think it makes so much sense for JL to say “we should be the organization that organizes some really great opportunity for women to come together and go down different tracks depending on what their needs and interests are. [JL can] be a hub for empowering women to be the best they can be. I really like that future dream, and think they can capitalize on that. We are all looking for ways to better ourselves, whether we are working, or at home… we are all looking to make the most of our lives, and do whatever we can to change our communities, so I think JL has a pretty unique spot in our community to be able to bring women together.
It seems like the JL is really a strong connector and facilitates a network of these women. Absolutely. I also really like how the JL is becoming more diverse too, so I think they are able to plug in to even more parts of the community, which I’m really excited about.
What do you wish the community knew about the Junior League? If someone moved here, what would you tell them about the Junior League? It is a great way to get to know the community, get to figure out how you want to make a difference in the community, while making great friendships and working side and by side with women who have that same philosophy.
What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Junior League? Impact.