Junior League helping community for more than a century

Member of the Junior League of Dayton Executive Board (L-R)  Kenna Goodrich, Kelly Kempton, Myla Cardona-Jones; Lauren Williams, Melissa Welker, Heather Osborn. The group was founded in Dayton in 1919 and has served the needs of the community for more than a century. CONTRIBUTED
Member of the Junior League of Dayton Executive Board (L-R) Kenna Goodrich, Kelly Kempton, Myla Cardona-Jones; Lauren Williams, Melissa Welker, Heather Osborn. The group was founded in Dayton in 1919 and has served the needs of the community for more than a century. CONTRIBUTED

Dayton chapter puts a focus on literacy

The 20th century began as a time of great change in the nation. Most women at that time did not work outside of the home, and many looked for both intellectual and creative outlets.

In March of 1901, Mary Harriman was attending Barnard College in New York City when she decided to form a “junior league” of young women who would volunteer both time and energy to help address the many social and economical issues of their city, which at that time included education, sanitation, public health, government and the environment.

One of the first members of the Junior League was a young Eleanor Roosevelt, who stood behind the causes of racial equality, children, the poor and the unemployed. Soon young women from across the country were joining together to charter their own local groups and in October 1919, the first Junior League of Dayton met at the Dayton Women’s Club downtown.

ExploreBreak a sweat at the mall this summer

Today, Myla Cardona-Jones of Centerville is president of the Junior League of Dayton, part of an executive board of young women who lead a larger group of 75 volunteers who work to develop potential in one another and improve the surrounding community.

“I first joined the league in 2015,” Cardona-Jones said. “Our focus has been literacy for a few years and in that first year, we started a project to donate books to schools that didn’t have libraries.”

In fact, literacy for both children and adults is only one of many issues the league has addressed. Nationally the group has played a role in healthy food education and access, securing the right to vote for all women, building awareness about social justice for adults and juveniles, establishing museums for children and supporting victims of domestic violence, trafficking, and bullying.

Junior League of Dayton members volunteer at Project Read sorting donated books during 2020. The group has sorted thousands of books for this local organization over the years. (L-R) Alison Heacock, Sarah Brandell (in front), Melissa Welker, Emilee Ambrose and Julie Peck. A Project Read employee is shown behind the group. CONTRIBUTEDF
Junior League of Dayton members volunteer at Project Read sorting donated books during 2020. The group has sorted thousands of books for this local organization over the years. (L-R) Alison Heacock, Sarah Brandell (in front), Melissa Welker, Emilee Ambrose and Julie Peck. A Project Read employee is shown behind the group. CONTRIBUTEDF

“My mom was in the Junior League,” said Cardona-Jones. “I grew up watching her being part of it.”

Her mother, Helen Jones-Kelley, the former director of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services was also the Junior League of Dayton’s first black president. Cardona-Jones said she left Dayton to attend college in Washington D.C., then returned after graduation, eager to get more involved in the community.

“I joined with a friend, and it immediately made perfect sense,” she said.

Cardona-Jones, now president of the league in Dayton, is following in her mother’s footsteps. She is joined on the executive board by Kelly Kempton of Oakwood, the community vice president; Kenna Goodrich of Kettering, the communications vice president; Lauren Williams of Waynesville, the membership vice president; Heather Osborn of Franklin, the financial development vice president and Melissa Welker of Kettering, the executive treasurer.

ExploreHealth officials: Test private wells for ‘forever chemicals’ if you live in these areas

“I joined the league in 2018,” Welker said. “I became interested in serving my community during my first career as a social worker.”

After moving to the Dayton area in 2017, Welker said she was looking for volunteer opportunities as a way to meet other “like minded” women and get involved in the community at the same time. She said the league immediately “felt like home.”

Kelly Kempton has been a member of the league for the past seven years and said the group has helped her develop her leadership experience and even inspired her to completely change her career.

“This organization has introduced me to a variety of amazing local nonprofits and trained me to sit on local boards,” Kempton said. “I am now working in nonprofit management and while volunteering, I was offered a position at Hannah’s Treasure Chest.”

Like many members, Lauren Williams is a working mother and juggles her professional and her personal life constantly.

“I love that the league looks at real issues in the community and tackles them head on,” Williams said. “Being part of this organization is one of the best examples I can set for my kids.”

ExploreRising number of Baby Boomers retirements may create ‘eye-opening’ changes

The focus of the league attracted Goodrich, who has long had a passion for improving adult literacy in the community. Throughout 2019 when Dayton endured multiple tragedies, from the Memorial Day tornadoes to the mass shooting in the Oregon District, league members also stepped up to help their hometown on the road to recovery.

“I’ve met so many inspiring women and learned so much about volunteering,” Goodrich said.

Osborn has lived in the local area for more than a decade, but was feeling overwhelmed by the many worthy organizations in the community. She said the league has been a group that continues to help so many people and for her, it was an obvious choice.

“I am surrounded by a community of strong women who show up for me and give me support when I need it,” Osborn said. “We celebrate together when life is great and are passionate about helping others.”

For more information, visit www.jldayton.org.

Contact this contributing writer at banspach@ymail.com.