Attending the West Orange Junior Service League’s inaugural past presidents luncheon are (front, l. to r.) Ann Harrell, Cherry Winters, Barbara Roper, Sue Crabtree, Linda Anderson, (back, l. to r.) Cara Hennen, Roberta Kamerlander, Kathy Thompson, Sherri Hawthorne, Lori Gibson, Kathy Aber, Tammy Beck, Lori Burshan, Kay Behrens, Karen Ardaman and Beth Wincey.
Never underestimate the power of a woman when she sets her mind to something. With one person, change is possible; however, with a group of like-minded females, the impact is exponentially increased, and the possibilities are endless.
For 75 years, the West Orange Junior Service League has devoted countless volunteer hours and significant funds to benefit west Orange County communities and organizations. This year’s anniversary marks a milestone for this dynamic organization, whose members — both past and present — have never hesitated to roll up their sleeves to help others in need.
Membership spans all seasons and walks of life, from single women to working professionals to stay-at-home moms to empty nesters — anyone who has a desire to serve. Any WOJSL member will attest that the gratification of helping others and forging new friendships, all while having fun, is priceless.
To these women, being part of a service organization is more than just opening up their checkbooks. Each year, members volunteer more than 2,500 cumulative service hours in support of various nonprofit programs and causes, including Edgewood Children’s Ranch and West Orange Christian Service Center; as well as partner with other local organizations to further their charitable efforts.
Windermere resident and WOJSL immediate past President Cara Hennen has a special place in her heart for one of the league’s outreach programs — West Orange Christian Service Center’s Daily Bread ministry. Hennen has coordinated WOJSL volunteers, as well as personally helped at Daily Bread almost every week since 2005.“When I started, we would serve about 80 meals on a Friday,” Hennen said. “Over the years, it has increased to more than 200.”
Members of the Winter Garden Welfare League, now known as the West Orange Junior Service League, prepare for a performance at Tildenville School. Attending the dress rehearsal are (l. to r.) Enid Biggers, Bennie Lou “Boots” Pease, Murfee Grace Tilden, Audrey Davis, unidentified member, Mollie Patrick, Kathryn Smith, Sadie Wilson and Ann Harrell.
During the past seven years, she has nurtured friendships with the other nonleague volunteers and refers to them as her “Friday family.”
“Daily Bread is a jewel in our backyard that not many people are aware of,” she said. “A lot of the people who come for meals are homeless and living in the groves. I have noticed more men in the past couple of years, and many of the people have been coming the whole time I have been there. When I leave the Daily Bread on a Friday, I see people riding their bikes or walking down the street carrying their lunches, and I know that we helped feed that person.”
After many years as WOJSL’s Daily Bread liaison, Hennen handed the reigns to Ocoee resident Lynne Sylvester, who has been an active member since 2009.
For the past three years, Stephanie Hodges of Gotha has focused on serving Edgewood Children’s Ranch, a nonprofit Christian facility that provides residential, educational and counseling services for troubled children ages 6 through 17 and their families.
“I am passionate about working with young people and hopefully making some sort of impact,” Hodges said. “All kids want to feel loved and appreciated. Getting to know these young ladies and their house parents over the years has certainly been a rewarding experience.”
WOJSL members organize a variety of activities for ECR residents, such as ice- and roller-skating, bowling, laser tag, wakeboarding, tailgate parties and even a Zumba class.
“We try to be as creative as possible,” Hodges said. “I think it is fair to say they enjoy getting out and experiencing new things.
“There have been so many rewarding experiences with the ladies. The league not only provides new experiences, but we are there to offer words of encouragement. No different than when our own children are trying something for the first time. A simple smile, hug and a ‘you can do this’ goes a long way.”
Members help each girl celebrate her birthday with a gift and treat. Also, last summer, the girls’ bedrooms and bathrooms received makeovers, complete with new comforters, window treatments, towels and painted walls.“We try to do anything we can do to make these young ladies feel special,” Hodges said.
Hodges contended that the girls have made just as much of an impact on the league volunteers as the women have on the girls.
“Our mission is simple, to make sure these girls feel important and valued during a transitional time in their young lives.
“I joined the league because it seemed like a great opportunity to give back to the community and to cultivate friendships with a great group of women.”
It is not unusual to find a contingency of WOJSL volunteers working alongside the Rotary Club of Winter Garden, serving food and drinks or pitching in wherever needed at local community events, or decorating the pediatric Christmas tree at Health Central.
Donations are also an important part of the league’s work. Some of the most recent recipients of financial aid include the West Orange Scholarship Foundation; Magnolia School for special-needs children; Saving Young Hearts, an organization with the mission of preventing sudden cardiac arrest and death in children and young adults; Roper YMCA Family Center; The West Orange Times Reading Reindeer program; and Health Central Park.
Throughout the past seven decades, WOJSL members have executed a number of creative fundraisers, including rummage sales, dances, bingo games, casino nights, carnivals, bridge parties, flower sales, cookbook sales, tea parties, themed galas, the Queen for the Day raffle, country-western hoedown and more.
Currently, the league relies primarily on two annual events to raise funds for its projects. Last fall, WOJSL, Oakland Park and Castle & Cook Real Estate co-sponsored the second annual Oakland Park 5K, when runners of all ages and abilities strapped on running shoes to complete a 3.1-mile course through beautiful Oakland. In only its second year, the 5K raised more than $12,000.
“We added the 5K because we wanted a new way to reach more people,” said Erin Boyd, current WOJSL president and a Winter Garden resident. “Based on its success over the past two years, we will absolutely continue to do this event.”
The third annual Oakland Park 5K is scheduled for Oct. 27 at 7:30 a.m.
The spring fundraiser is when WOJSL hopes to raise enough money to fund its budget. In its third year, the Kentucky Derby-themed Run for the Roses will be held May 5 at 5:30 p.m. at Stoneybrook West Golf Club.
Guests can cheer for their horse of choice as it races toward the finish line during prerecorded races. To add to the excitement, participants can bet on races as if they were at the track. Once the bets pay out, the “funny money” can be redeemed for raffle tickets for chances to win prizes.
A silent auction featuring numerous items, services and packages from local businesses adds to the appeal, as guests support the charitable event and receive great deals.
According to Winter Garden resident Dawn Gilmore, chairwoman of the ways and means committee, the goal for 2012 is to raise $40,000 through ticket sales, silent auction proceeds and sponsorship levels.
“We are depending upon the community members and businesses to help us reach our goal this year with their generous donations,” Gilmore said. “And, we want to invite everyone to attend, because it is going to be a really fun event.”
A unique program linked to WOJSL and steeped in Southern tradition is the annual debutante ball. Since its inception at WOJSL in 1968, the debutante program was designed to help young women get involved in their communities, as well as teach etiquette and social skills.
High school juniors and seniors are recommended by members and voted on by the league. Once accepted, the girls attend a variety of events, host a party, complete etiquette courses and learn to waltz. The process generally begins in April and culminates in November with a formal ball, when the debutantes are officially presented to society.
Keelee Sines Aaron, whose mother, Angie Sines, was an active WOJSL member, completed the debutante program in 1989.
When it was time for Aaron to host a party, she took the girls to Old Town for a Fabian concert, and ended up dancing onstage with him.
“It was an honor to be chosen as a debutante because it was a unique experience, and it gave me the chance to meet other girls I would have normally never met,” Aaron said.
“Being a debutante taught me many important skills that I am able to use in everyday life,” said Alexandria Tomooka, a Windermere resident and 2008 Olympia High School graduate. “Because of the etiquette classes, I know how to be professional when going on job interviews, going to dinner with business professionals, mingling at networking events, and much more. I also had a great time getting to know the other women and made many friends along the way.”
Though not a fundraiser, the goal of the debutante program is to encourage young girls to become involved in their community through service projects, with the hope they will carry on the practice throughout their adult lives.
Tomooka, who is a senior at the University of Central Florida and studying event management at Rosen College of Hospitality Management, is actively involved with charitable organizations and volunteers with Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Many WOJSL members either went through the debutante program as teenagers or their mothers were debutantes; however, it is not a requirement for league membership.
The positive impact WOJSL has had and will continue to have in west Orange County is a tribute to the dedication, hard work and caring spirit of its members.
West Orange Junior Service League members attend the group’s 25th anniversary silver tea, held at Ruby Roper’s home in 1961.
“We receive nearly $70,000 in requests from organizations during the year,” Boyd said. “Last year, we were able to give out $40,000; but, of course, we want to be able to do more. We continue to be faced with challenges, especially in this tough economy. But, I am amazed by the attitude of the league members and their ability to continue to support our projects. They are a great group of women, and I couldn’t imagine not being connected to the league in some way.”
For more information about the West Orange Junior Service League or third annual Run for the Roses, call Erin Boyd at 407-421-6252, email
or visit www.wojsl.com on the Web.
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