You might not realize it, but you see their work every day in Wyoming. Any time you pass the Civic Center. Whenever your kids play on the Tot Lot, take part in Wyoming Youth Services after-school programs, or when the luminaria line the streets and horse-drawn carriages give rides around town every December – you’re seeing the legacy of the Junior Woman’s Club of Wyoming.
“JWC is part of the landscape of Wyoming,” says Emma Bernay, club Vice President. “Volunteers really help keep this place running. We’re so lucky to have the resources to do these things.”
The JWC was founded in 1948 as a way for women to contribute to their community outside the home—and spend some time with friends. One of their first projects was to help raise funds to rebuild the Civic Center, which burned down in 1949. Since that time, the JWC has provided volunteers and fundraising assistance for a wide variety of projects and organizations in and around Wyoming.
In recent years, however, “Membership went through a steep decline,” Bernay says. “More women were working, and there were other outlets to express ourselves.” Around the time that she joined, “The club did a lot of soul-searching, like ‘Are we outdated?’ And so we overhauled ourselves, streamlined the meetings, made things easier for working parents.” That made all the difference. “The last couple of years have been the biggest new-member classes ever.”
Friendship, Service, and Philanthropy
While the club may have been updated, the goals and purposes remain the same: fostering civic involvement and volunteerism—and providing a circle of friends. Becky Freund joined when her kids were ages one and three. She says, “I checked it out selfishly as a way get out of the house and have some adult contact. It worked!” Since then, she has become more involved in the club and community, chairing a fundraiser and serving as membership co-chair as well.
In fact, every member is expected to volunteer in the community — through the club and on an individual basis. “I was able to ‘sample’ volunteer and service opportunities,” says Shawn Gilligan, who joined JWC in 2008. “I settled on delivering Meals On Wheels because that best fit my life at the time. Later I became a regular volunteer at Valley Interfaith Food and Clothing Center. I was able to satisfy my need to do something positive and benefit my community.” The members also participate in service activities at each regular meeting. In all, JWC members contributed over a thousand hours of volunteer service in 2016-2017, working with Friends of the Public Library, Valley Giving Tree, Kudos Kids, and many others.
The third “pillar” of the JWC triangle is philanthropy — raising funds for a variety of worthy causes. Last year the club raised and disbursed over $20,000 for such organizations as Wyoming Youth Services, the Fine Arts Center, and Wyoming City Schools, providing things like supplies and scholarships. “But there’s also a lot of communities just outside Wyoming that need our help as well,” says Emma Bernay. “We’re working with Our Daily Bread, Valley Interfaith, and Heartfelt Tidbits, which is a refugee assistance organization. I’m proud that we’re able to focus our attention on groups who are truly, truly in need.”
The monies that JWC donates come from several fund raisers the club holds during the year, most noticeably through the sale of luminaria to Light Up Wyoming during the holidays, but always as something fun and community-oriented. “The Euchre Tournament!” says Shawn Gilligan. “It’s a fun, social night, and it’s our second-largest fundraiser.”
There’s also the ‘Rocking Fundraiser, which allows people to prank their neighbors by placing giant shamrocks in their yards. “One of the amazing things,” says Bernay, “is that every penny we raise goes right back into the community. Our dues pay for our meetings and social events, but all the money we fundraise goes directly to the community.”
That Small Town Feel
Many JWC members share similar stories about joining the club after moving to town. “It was a great way to meet my new neighbors and give back,” says Kelly Myers. “One of my favorite things about Wyoming is the small town feel, and JWC is a special part of that feeling.”
Emma Bernay agrees. “I didn’t really feel connected to Wyoming as a teenager,” she says of moving back as an adult. “As an adult woman and a parent, JWC has really strengthened my connection to Wyoming.”
While many new members come to the club at the urging of friends, Bernay stresses that all women are welcome. “No matter where you come from, how old or young your kids are, if you have kids or not, the Junior Woman’s Club is a very open and accepting way to enter into Wyoming.”
The JWC meets at the Wyoming Civic Center on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. Anyone interested in joining can contact Becky Freund or Denise Litter at email@example.com. For other information, see the JWC website jwc-wyoming.org or contact Emma Bernay or Jen Dillhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.