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.


harvestmarketpic(2)How did you get connected with Junior League?

I was approached because of my role as a dietitian of this store and being the community dietitian. My mission and role are to help people be as healthy as they possibly can and be included. I think just finding different outlets, friends, and people who are part of this community. When I first started here, I got as many contacts as I possibly could and sent out mass emails telling people ‘Hey I’m here. I’m a dietitian and if you need anything let me know!’ to make collaboration and relationships with the community because that’s really my goal. The first event I was contacted as a potential partner.


What specifically working with JL stuck out? What drew you to the Kids in the Kitchen program?

JL and Kids in the Kitchen’s whole goal from what I understand is to address child obesity and get kids exposed to healthier options, trying everything, making eating healthy fun and exciting and that’s what I’m all about. I think it’s great to be partnering with organizations that are so well embedded in the community already and that really drew me to that to because (JL) is a very organized organization that has been in the industry for a long time. That’s why I believe it would be a great collaboration for me.


Anything in the future you have in mind with JL? Any potential partnerships in the future?

I’m open to anything! I really am! As far as programs and things, I love what we do here to have people come interaction with different stations with snacks, apples, and fruits. I don’t know about bridging out with JL to offer something to women or mom specifically, but I do teach my own cooking classes. While JL is more geared towards kids, my classes are geared towards the parents and how to provide healthy choices and dealing with picky eaters. A lot things I get asked by moms is how to stay healthy, quick easy meals, meal prepping, and all that good stuff.


Any favorite recipes from the program?

It’s not a recipe but the last one we did was four different kinds of apples. It was really cool because we had different kinds of dipping sauces. The kids tried every single one of them and voted which of them were their favorite. We had it all on a board and drawn out. That was my favorite because it was watching the kids trying and experimenting. A lot of the parents saw their children eat everything and was surprised to find that that their kids liked it because they could never get their children to try anything. It was great for the kids be independent to try and vote for what they like. The parents were surprised by watching their kids try anything. They really enjoyed it and the parents returned to buy some more apples.


When you do these workshops, are the parents just as engaged or are the kids more independent?

So we had different stations set up throughout. We had a big table where they could make their own trail mixes. I like to add whole grain cereal, popcorn, mini chocolate chips, dried fruit, and nuts. We really really encourage kids to do it by themselves. It depends on the parents and kids. We were there to help the kids rather than the parents, but it all depends because some kids are very shy and young so some parents may be more involved. The older kids are allowed to do be more independent because it was more for them to be comfortable to be around food and choosing what do they like.


Have any families brought knowledge taken from these classes back into their own kitchen at home?

I have some parents that are recurring customers and they continue to tell me how much they and the kids enjoy it. I like to think they kept something from these classes.


Some of these classes a geared towards low-income schools, any advice on ensuring affordable but also healthy meals?

My background in undergrad is human resources. We focused on accessibility and I think that is really important for everything because everybody has that in mind, but especially a common misconception of eating well is that it can be very expensive. Fruits and vegetable are the main focus. My plate guideline is to have half the plate fruits and vegetable. That is where I like to start people when I am recommending healthy eating practice. 90% of the people are not getting the recommended fruits and veggies. We’re really good at eating meat and really good at eating refined carbohydrates and sweets, but not so much whole grain, fruits, and veggies. Focusing that all forms of fruits and veggies are important meaning not only fresh but canned and frozen as well. There so much nutritional noise out there and misconceptions that canned food is bad for you. No, I rather you eat canned corn if that’s the only vegetable available. I really think educating all the different ways you can eat well: eating in season, looking for those deals, and not wasting food. Incorporating that knowledge and information is important to gauge parents. The recipes we give to kids are from thebetterhealthstore.org. They are very budget friendly.

CAF Grant Recipient The Reading Group gets a visit from JLCU

contributed by Jenette Jurczyk
It is one thing to know that our Community Assistant Fund (CAF) Grants and community outreach goes to support local non-profits in our town, but it is another to see the impact firsthand.
Last month, I was invited to take a tour of The Reading Group, a non-profit organization celebrating 45 years of service in the Champaign-Urbana Community.  During the tour of their offices and classrooms, located in The Village at the Crossing, the executive director Winnie Crowder educated me on the history of the organization and how JLCU has had a direct impact on their mission.
Founded by Urbana resident Marilyn Kay, The Reading Group is a program for students who require special assistance with reading above and beyond what they can get in the school system.  Many students who suffer from dyslexia and other reading challenges can get lost in the schools and feel like they can never keep up with their peers.
The Reading Group offers special, affordable, one-on-one teaching and tutoring to students and adults who can overcome such challenges in as little as ten weeks with the right approach.
Winnie showed me the series of books that they were able to purchase for their library with the last CAF Grant they were awarded by the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana. The “Who is?”, “Who was?” and “What is?” books series are designed foIMG_20180403_162241r those who are building their confidence as readers and JLCU has helped to purchase about 70 titles in the series.
She expressed her gratitude for the work that JLCU does to help smaller non-profits that don’t always have the same capacity for fundraising.
You can learn more about The Reading Group at www.readinggroup.org.  If you are interested in working with them, they do have teaching positions open and they are looking for potential candidates to join their Board of Directors.

#JLCUimpacts Erin Murphy

Photo Option 1What is Sistering CU and how did you come about the idea?


Sistering CU is a non-profit that recruits and trains volunteers to go to the homes of families with new babies for the first twelve weeks after birth, for two hours a week. So volunteers will go two hours every week for twelve weeks to help out usually a mom so that she has extra parenting hand, so she can take a nap, take a shower, pay bills, call a friend, or maybe play with her older children, you know, whatever she needs. Or, if she needs help running errands, volunteers can help, like if she needs to go to a grocery store or Target, the volunteer can watch the baby while she gets stuff done. So that, you know, she feels a little relief, and hopefully gets some time to herself. Because research show that if they get two hours, or even an hour a week, it can reduce rates of postpartum depression.


How did you connect with the JL from Sistering CU? What was the process like applying for the CAF grant?


It was very straightforward. They have it laid out, all the requirements that what you need to make the application. As long as your organization aligns with the things they are trying to support throughout the community, like children’s health, for example, or the health of the family, it’s pretty clear how your organization can fit with the CAF grant. So that’s why we have applied for it, and have have been successful in the past with it.


How has Sistering CU applied the CAF grant for expanding its resources?


When we first applied, we were brand new, and we needed help getting marketing materials out. We used the grant to help pay for marketing materials like flyers and pamphlets, to put out. These help explain to the community who we were, what we were doing, and how we can help, because we want to get our name out there so that moms will request our help, as well as to to recruit more volunteers, too.


What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about the Junior League? How would you describe the JL?


I think of women’s leadership, and how women demonstrate their leadership. It’s usually through supporting the community, supporting families, and trying to make a strong foundation so that everyone in the community thrives, and not just particular groups. When I think of the JL, I think of them trying to look at a more holistic picture of leadership and how the community can be improved.


How many mothers have you worked with so far with Sistering CU? Are they recurring families?


We served 17 families so far in our first year, and they are individual families. Some of the volunteers have been recurring they have taken a few different families, but it has been 17 individual families so far.


We saw that you have two programs that are listed as “coming soon” on your website: Life After Birth Family Support Groups and a “Preparing for the 4th Trimester” class. Could you talk a little bit more about these programs?


On May 16th, at the Urbana Free Library, we are hosting a free documentary film screening of the documentary “When the Bough breaks,” narrated by Brooke Shields, and it’s about postpartum depression. May is Perinatal Disorder Month, so that’s why we are hosting it in May. It’s co-sponsored by the Urbana Free Library and also the IDEA Coalition. At that event, we will have a panel of local experts talking about the local resources for postpartum depression. At least three out of ten women who have given birth will experience a perinatal mood disorder. and it’s probably more like four out of ten, because it goes undiagnosed very often. That panel of experts will be there to answer the questions about what we have locally, and at that point, we will roll out our postpartum class plan, and announce what we have. We are working on the postpartum resource guide, so that women, and the family together, can think about that fourth trimester and can think about the resources they do have, how they can organize it and be prepared. When the fourth trimester hits, I mean, that’s a real thing– it’s a healing, it’s a physiological healing, and if you are adopting, there’s still a physiological component to bonding, and sleep deprivation, and all of that.  Getting a plan together of what your resources are in terms of community, what your resources are in terms of services you might want to look into is really important, that’s just what we want to get people planning for.


You mentioned adoption– How does Sistering CU cater to different types of mothers, such as adopting mothers, single mothers, or mothers from low-income families?


Anybody is eligible. It doesn’t matter if you gave birth or adopted, and it doesn’t matter what your income is. We strongly believe that anybody who has a newborn baby needs help, and deserves help. We want to be there as a community for them, as this can be a really joyful time, but it’s a difficult time as well. We want to be there to help with the joys and the difficulties– it’s all normal. We just want be there to help because, especially in our culture, moms are not focused on, and they need to be, because the mortality rate in the United States is very high compared to other industrialized countries, and we can do better. It is so obvious and so simple, and there’s things we can do and all we have to do is get organized and do it.


What would you like to see JL doing in the future?


The JL [does] focus on children and do focus on families. I would also like them to focus on women, and women’s health, in and of itself, because I think women…we matter. We don’t have to only matter in terms of our service to somebody else. I would like to see that on the agenda, and [show that] it’s okay that we want to take care of women, too.

#JLCUImpacts: Cynthia Bruno

image1What organization are you from? What does your organization do?

Our organization is called Girls Go For It and we are an afterschool program currently in the champaign community. We are focused on making girls feel more empowered and lighting the candle for the entrepreneurial spirit and really helping them develop as leaders.

Why did your organization choose to focus on 5th graders, specifically?

We choose 5th graders for a very specific reasons. One of the things we were looking at when we started this program was that really wanted to make an impact for these girls going forward. We started noticing that test scores for girls were starting to drop between 5th and 6th grade looking at publicly available information. We thought maybe there is a tie between how they feel confident in the classroom and what their test scores are showing. If we can get in and try to increase that confidence and develop those leadership skills before they have those drops in scores maybe they will be more engaged in school and succeed in their academic careers.

Girls Go For It’s end goal is “to go forward with the armor of knowledge, education, confidence, and a plan.” Why and how did you choose these goals?

Let me give you the backstory of how Girls Go For It was born. I was a mentor at the Champaign school system and my mentee at the time was in 5th grade. I went to her classroom, and she has a picture of everyone in the class on a chalkboard of what they want to be when they grow up. I was so excited because she’s said “doctor,” and when we were talking a little bit more about it, she said, “I don’t know if that’s what I want to be because we just had to write something to take this photo.” Where she wants to be when she grows up was not part of the conversation. I was with some friends who were also doing the mentoring program that noticed the same thing. We thought, what can we do to help these girls get some professional development experiences early on, so they have a plan and know what it takes in 5th grade, high school, and beyond to get to the level they want to be. Planning has been a big part of our curriculum because we want to expose them to decisions they have to start making pretty early on depending on what career choice they want to go on. It’s not like they have to stick to the plan in 5th grade but when you start understanding what it takes to plan and what it takes to reach a goal you can do that so much faster if you are changing your mind.

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about the Junior League?

Passion – because I think that it’s filled with people who want to make a difference. When you join the Junior League, they are very upfront that it is a community service organization, which is part of their mission. But, from the people I have met from the organization have some element of being mover and shaker to them, and I love being around that energy.

What do you wish the community knew about the Junior League?

I think that Junior League is a strong center of influence in this community and it is filled with women who are passionate about making a change, and who are dedicated to helping those in need. There is so much heart behind what the members do individually and together, so I would want more people to understand that it is a resource for the community, but it is also a place where you will find passionate people that will help YOU understand the cause. It is an excellent source of funding with CAF grants and that kind of things, but it is also a place for you to spread your message about what you are doing for the community.

How has being part of the Junior League influenced your involvement in other organizations?

I founded Girls Go For It after I joined the Junior League and quite frankly a lot of Junior League members were inaugural board members and continued to serve with Girls Go For It.  It is so great because JL is all about the potential of women and Girls for it is about reaching the potential of younger women, so it is a great tie to have those two organizations supporting one another.

Where do you see Girls Go For it five years from now?

We want to be wherever we can help whether that could be more schools around here or branching out other communities and other states. We want to expand. We just want more women to feel empowered and, however, we can best do that and best reach those people we want to be there for them.