JLO SINCE 1989 | BUT A LOVE STORY THAT BEGAN IN 1964
The Junior League of Ocala was founded in 1989 by what was originally known as the Children’s Service League (CSL).
CSL was formed in April of 1964 by twenty women to assist in the transportation of infants for adoption and to address the needs of children placed in foster homes. They were instrumental in establishing the Children’s Home Society’s office in Marion County.
From this humble beginning, CSL continued to evolve, staying true to its goal of providing love and meeting the tangible needs of children.
In 1989, CSL was formally admitted into the Association of Junior Leagues International and became known as the Junior League of Ocala.
Today, the Junior League of Ocala connects over 100 members to our community to act on tough issues and impact transformational change – continuing its focus on women and children in the Ocala community.
History of the Junior League of Ocala’s Community Impact
This educational program began with the Children’s Service League in an attempt to teach kindergarteners the importance of washing, personal hygiene, and disease control. Our members volunteered as Scrubby Bear, visited classrooms with programming materials, and talked to the students about the importance of this issue. Scrubby Bear also made appearances in local parades.
The Discovery Center
The Junior League of Ocala conceived and founded the Discovery Center. This was one of our first community impact projects after transitioning from the Children’s Service League to what we now know as the Junior League of Ocala.
The Discovery Center later opened in 1993, two years ahead of schedule after the Junior League of Ocala members led the effort to launch the facility through fundraising and development of exhibits and programs. The Junior League of Ocala provided financial backing and members staffed the gift shop and ticket window through the “Discovery Hands” program.
Before there were recycling bins all over our county, the Junior League of Ocala brought a large trailer to all of our meetings, so members and others could turn in their recycling. Other efforts included initiatives to educate the public regarding what can be recycled and how, as well as what can be produced from recycled materials.
The Junior League of Ocala provided assistance to foster children being served by the Family Visitation Center during the Halloween, Christmas and Easter Holidays. The Holiday Families Committee provided referrals for the Adopt-a-Family program described below.
In the early years, league members “adopted” families with the aim of helping them learn to help themselves. They counseled them in ways to improve their situation (ie: through education, such as obtaining their GED), helped them obtain public housing, tutored children, directed families to government aid and gave them emotional and limited emergency financial assistance.
Child Abuse Puppetry
Through this community service project, which was held in conjunction with the Marion County Medical Society Auxillary, Junior League of Ocala members staged puppet shows in local elementary schools in an effort to teach children how to identify, resist and report physical and/or sexual abuse and neglect.
For many years, Junior League of Ocala members volunteered to monitor a playroom at the Rape Crisis/Spouse Abuse Center and set up positive and stimulating activities for children while their mothers received counseling. The goal was to raise children’s self-esteem and to teach them that the world contains caring and trustworthy adults.
The Black Stallion Literacy Project
This was one of the Junior League of Ocala’s longest-running community service projects. From 2002 until 2010, The Black Stallion Literacy Project introduced over 2,500 Marion County children ANNUALLY to the joy of reading through the magic of horses and the popular Black Stallion books by Walter Farley.
The Junior League of Ocala, along with our partners, the Florida Thoroughbred Charities and the Public Education Foundation, made this project the LARGEST of its kind in the NATION!
Women’s Leadership Luncheon
From 1995-2001, the Junior League of Ocala, along with a local sponsor, brought nationally known motivational speakers to Ocala for this annual luncheon.
In collaboration with Altrusa and the Ocala Art Group, the Junior League of Ocala brought this Hallmark-sponsored traveling art exhibit, to the children of Marion County from 1994-1998.
Volunteer of the Year Awards Banquet
In collaboration with JCPenney and Volunteer Service Bureau, the Junior League of Ocala hosted a gala banquet to recognize, applaud and award leading volunteers from many organizations throughout the community.
Public Library Endowment
In 1999, the Junior League of Ocala donated $10,000 to Marion County Public Libraries.
Tuscawilla Park Playground and Family Pavilion
In 2010, the Junior League of Ocala donated $70,000 to the City of Ocala and provided a large group of volunteers from our organization to assemble the universal playground and family picnic pavilion.
Munroe Regional Medical Center Children’s Emergency Department
Through our fundraising efforts, the Junior League of Ocala donated over $10,000 to MRMC for the completion of their Children’s Emergency Department.
“Jump with Jill” and Healthy Recipe Contest
In the Spring of 2011, the Junior League of Ocala alongside several community partners including Generation Fit, MRMC, and the Ocala Hilton, hosted a large community education multi-part event to raise awareness among children and their families of the importance of healthy eating and regular physical activity.
Marion County public and private school children in 3rd – 5th grades were invited to participate in a healthy recipe contest. Over 125 recipes were submitted and three winners were chosen, one from each grade level. The three students were invited to make their recipe in front of a live audience for “Dishin’ It Out” program with Chef Randall.
Afterward, the nationally recognized “Jump with Jill” performed a rock concert for the children and families of Marion County. The program is a live rock ‘n roll concert about nutrition.
2013-2014 League Year
The Junior League of Ocala supported over 10 different organizations throughout the 2013-2014 league year through our Done in a Day and Done in a Meeting projects.
At the end of the year, our members voted to provide extra financial support to three local organizations:
- $8,000 to the Public Education Foundation
- $5,000 to Hospice of Marion County Children and Families Division
- $3,000 to HELP Agency of the Forest
City of Ocala Recreation and Parks
In 2015, the Junior League of Ocala partnered with the City of Ocala Recreation and Parks Department to help develop playgrounds and pavilions for the children and families of Marion County. The three-year commitment promised $40,000 which went towards building a Family Picnic Pavilion at Scott Springs Park and the development of Marimere Neighborhood Park, among other projects. The money for these projects came in part from the Junior League of Ocala’s annual fundraising event, Pints for Parks, which was held for the first time in the spring of 2016.
During the fall of 2019, the Junior League of Ocala renewed its partnership with a four-year commitment of $50,000 to go towards the indoor playground at Reed Place. Junior League of Ocala members also helped build the new playground at Fisher Park.
When Hurricane Irma hit central Florida in September 2017, Junior League of Ocala members sprung into action by filling sandbags for community members and provided snacks and water each morning to the men and women working hard to restore electricity in our community.
HeART in the Park
The 2017-2018 provisional members organized our first HeART in the Park event that raised $9,500 for Kids Central. The league voted to keep this as an annual event where children and families can enjoy a day in the park and paint something they love.
For the 2018-2019 league year, the Junior League of Ocala unveiled its latest Community Impact project called R.E.A.C.H. The program is a collaboration with the Marion County Public School System and was piloted at Oakcrest Elementary School. The ultimate goal of the program is to help students at underperforming schools achieve greatness by providing support to the students, teachers, and parents. Since its inception, the league has added Evergreen Elementary School and Emerald Shores Elementary School as partners of the program.
To kick off the program, the league held a backpack drive where people could donate $7.50 for a new backpack stocked with school supplies. We received over $3,200 which allowed us to purchase new uniform shirts in addition to the backpacks and supplies.
Through the R.E.A.C.H. Initiative, Junior League members painted and stocked a resource room at Oakcrest, created a “maker’s room” at Evergreen, volunteered at various school events, and created take-home learning kits.
The Junior League of Ocala also purchased buddy benches that foster inclusion and kindness in the students, extra large blocks from Imagination Playground at Oakcrest since the older children do not have a playground, and hundreds of new books for the students. Junior League members have collected donations for shoes, uniforms, alarm clocks, and other items for the students.
Little Free Libraries
Junior League members decorated and stocked two Little Free Libraries at Oakcrest for its R.E.A.C.H. Initiative. The Junior League of Ocala also stocks the Little Free Library at Tuscawilla Park.
Little Black Dress Initiative
The Junior League of Ocala participated in its first Little Black Dress Initiative in the fall of 2018. This was a social media driven fundraising campaign that illustrated the lack of resources underprivileged students in Marion County face and the effects it has on their education, confidence, and overall well-being. Through this week-long campaign, the Junior League of Ocala raised more than $5,000 towards R.E.A.C.H.
Women’s Motivational Event
Through a sponsorship provided by Beth McCall, the Junior League of Ocala organized and hosted a free community event in March 2020 featuring a nationally celebrated speaker, Vicki Clark.
When the governor of Florida issued a stay-in-place order during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Junior League of Ocala created a resource page on our website. Among others, the page provides links to general information, tips on working from home, activities for children, and ways to help local community members. Junior League members also recorded storytime sessions, resources on how to navigate the Marion County distance learning site, and tips on how to balance working from home while your child is distance learning.
Junior League members also passed out 300 filled Easter eggs and crafts to community members and donated cleaning supplies, toiletries, feminine hygiene products, and $1,200 in Walmart gift cards to go towards groceries and other necessities for the ladies at Project Hope.