JUNIOR AUXILIARY ~ A History of Helping ~

by | Feb 1, 2009 | Community, Features

Story by Dianne Edwards

Before the beginning of the public school lunch program, the ladies of Junior Auxiliary were providing for the needs of area children. These women, part of a local chapter of Junior Auxiliary that organized in the late 1930s and early 1940s, personally saw to it that every needy child received free milk with their school lunch. They drove directly to the dairy each day and transported the milk in their own vehicles.
When the original chapter of ladies disbanded with the onset of World War II, they became inactive until 28 local women reorganized the group in 1960. They became affiliated with the National Association of Junior Auxiliaries (NAJA) based in Greenville, Miss. After serving a year as a petitioning organization and a second year as a provisional group, the Russellville Chapter of Junior Auxiliary was classified as an active chapter in 1962.
The national focus of each chapter of Junior Auxiliary continues to center around meeting the needs of the area’s underserved children. Community services offered by Junior Auxiliary members are funded through the group’s annual fund raisers, such as the annual Charity Ball, which began in 1965.
Perhaps you bought a gilded bird cage from that first JA Charity Ball, or fell privy to photographs from “The Red Stocking Follies,” held in the mid-1970s. Or maybe you’re one of those silent “Friends of Junior Auxiliary” who chooses to help without public recognition. Regardless of your method of support or your walk of life, chances are that you’ve been touched in some way by the countless efforts of the Russellville Chapter of Junior Auxiliary.
The group encourages its members to assume responsible leadership roles in the community and render service of a humanitarian nature within the community, with children their primary focus.
Membership in the organization is by invitation only. To be considered, a woman must be at least 21 years of age and have resided within the Russellville School District for at least a year. A required 72 hours of service related to Junior Auxiliary areas must be performed to maintain membership. Categories of membership include provisional, active, associate and life.

This year’s slate of officers include: Mel White, president; Robin Duffield, first vice president; Sandy Huie, second vice president; Sherri Streety; corresponding secretary; Elizabeth Harris, recording secretary; Michele Purtle, treasurer; Kathleen Stingley, assistant treasurer; Debra Choate, parliamentarian; Amy Tarpley, historian; Dani Martin, public relations chairman; Laurie Reasoner and Tammy Rhodes, finance chairmen, and Suzanne Gately, associate to the board.
Committee chairs are: Sandy Huie, projects committee; Sandy Huie and Ragena Moore, Child Welfare Co-Chairs; Jennifer Aguilar and Kate Riggs, co-chairs of the civic and cultural committee; Tammy Morgan, community education; Robin Duffield, constitution committee; Cindy Waits and Rhonda Orsburn, co-chairs of the continuing education committee; Cathy Huett, convention; Aaron Wojo and Sandy Davis, health; Debra Choate, nominations; Tonia Adkins, placement; Rhonda Orsburn and Tammy Rhodes, co-chairs of the scholarship committee; Elizabeth Harris, self-evaluation; Leigh Ann George and Amanda Shilling, co- chairs of the social committee, Amy Tarpley, telephone committee, and Lynne Knight, properties.
There are 102 active chapters in the National Association within six regions and eight states, including Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. A total of 3,478 of the more than 13,809 NAJA members are actively involved with the daily focus of the organization.
A strict list of assessed fines and/or losses is evoked when a member fails to perform the required number of service hours. These, as well as guidelines for the operating rules of the NAJA organization, are listed in the standing rules and procedures which are amended periodically by the membership at their national convention held each May.

The first Charity Ball began in 1965 under the leadership of JA president Joyce Laws. The group operated on a shoestring budget that first year, driving to Dallas to get supplies for the decorations. The first ball was held in the Russellville National Guard Armory (located behind Wendy’s at the site of the current Russellville Police Department.) Members had reported that decorating that facility “was quite a feat!”
As interest and attendance in the Charity Ball increased, Junior Auxiliary outgrew the armory. Through a community needs survey conducted by the chapter, it was determined that a community gathering place was needed for the city of Russellville.
From that survey came the eventual creation of Hughes Center, built in 1976 with the aid of Federal matching funds through the Urban Renewal program. The local share came from a property tax approved by local residents.
The local JA chapter provided the furnishing, equipment and appliances for the kitchen in Hughes Center. Originally, all food for the Charity Ball was prepared by the members – for some 400 guests – with each member actively involved in food preparation. The original menu is a far cry from this year’s seated, catered dinner.

And, since the Hughes Center’s creation, the event center has served for the site of the group’s annual fund raising event.
That is, until this year, when the decision to move the event was made. This year’s Charity Ball, JA Italia Bravissima (An Evening in Venice) will be held for the first time at the L.V. Williamson Boys and Girls Club located at 600 E. 16th St. in Russellville.
The 44th annual Junior Auxiliary Charity Ball will be held from 6 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009, at the L.V. Williamson Boys and Girls Club of the Arkansas River Valley. Tickets for the black tie-optional event are $65 per person.
The evening will include a caterer meal, a live and silent auction, complimentary photograph and dancing to the music of The Rockets. For reserved tickets and additional information, call (479) 264-7642.

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