Not only had her friend produced an award-winning documentary -- she was able to do it because the
"I was curious about an organization that would teach hands-on skills and give you a network of friends at the same time," says Bellaimey, 57, of
"I had this image of the
Bellaimey, who unlike many past members is Catholic, took another look at the organization and liked what she saw.
Yes, they once had a reputation as a hoity-toity bunch, but they've always been focused on making life better for women and children.
This year the
Once tailored to women 20 to 40 years old -- thus the name, junior -- it now welcomes all adult women to apply for membership. In the late 1980s, the
At that time, she was a stay-at-home mother. She recalls advocating for opening the league to women older than 40, a suggestion met with resistance from other league leaders.
"My argument was that
Though still predominantly white, the
"When I looked into membership several years ago, I saw you had to be recommended by a member I didn't know anybody in the league," says Henry, who is African American. She later attended a recruitment fair where she learned of the open application process.
Diversity not only leads to a broader base of ideas and points of view, it enhances the organization's image and impact, Henry says.
"When we go out to tutor or do a service project and the children see someone who looks like them who is doing things for the community, it perhaps encourages them to do better in their communities and to give back," says Henry, an attorney in the
Progress for women also cut into membership. Its numbers dropped from about 1,000 in the 1980s to about 500 today as more jobs and other opportunities opened to women, and women had other demands on their time.
"Times have changed. People had a hard time trying to find that balance between work, family and the volunteer commitment demanded by the league," says current president,
Tiderington, 38, of
"I wanted to do grown-up things. I wanted something of my own," says Tiderington, who was introduced to the league by a tennis buddy.
She now finds herself frequently taking her four children along whether reading aloud at a
It's a way she combats the me-me-me mind-set she has seen in too many children.
"A lot of kids feel everyone lives the way they live or better," says Tiderington, whose children are ages 7 to 13. "Its important that they know when you are fortunate, you help out those in need. If I want them to grow up with that mind-set, I have to emulate it."
The league's commitment to training women -- from organizational leadership to basics like film production -- is a big part of its appeal for
She also appreciates that the organization finds a need, creates projects to meet those needs and helps launch them as independent entities.
Examples are displayed throughout the exhibit at the
Bellaimey is especially proud of the renovation of the second floor of the
"We were able to turn an upstairs space that was essentially condemned into a very lovely, pretty place," says Bellaimey, CEO of Detroit Tube Products, a 103-year-old family-owned business in southwest
Bellaimey, who served on the
"It's hard to fathom how an organization made lots of money putting on a talent show, but they did," she says, noting that the league's annual talent show called the Follies, held in places such as Music Hall, was the major fund-raiser for many years.
The league also hosted teas and linen sales, offering dainty handkerchiefs and homemade aprons, as fund-raisers.
"As I was doing the research I was really struck, so often, by how much our lives have changed, and how formal women used to be," she says. "Yet these very dressed-up women were not just ordering other people to do stuff, but they were giving money and rolling up their sleeves and doing the work. There's a history of that in this organization.
"I think people will walk away from that exhibit and be surprised by ... the big impact the
Source: Exhibit and website of
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