Care Today, Character Tomorrow

Today’s women’s volunteer organizations are not the groups of our mothers and grandmothers. Organizations like the Junior Auxiliary of Saline County are made up of women who not only lead full domestic schedules, but also have full-time jobs. They juggle motherhood, home life and their careers. They rise above the “I don’t have time” excuse and take on a can- and will-do attitude.

“We are mothers, teachers, nurses, lawyers and more,” says member Heidi Freeman. “We have full schedules and full-time jobs. We don’t have the time to volunteer, we make the time.”

And make the time they do. With so many commitments and projects throughout the year, it’s no doubt Saline County is a better place because of the important work JA does for the community. It’s often said it takes a village to raise healthy children who grow up to become upstanding adults. JA is part of that village in Saline County, filling the gap when and where needed.

With the holidays upon us, JA’s Blessing Project is in full force. Lauren Lamb, Blessing Project chair, explains that the initiative provides three meals and two snacks a day to children in need, during the holiday breaks as well as the week of spring break. Most of the children who benefit from this project receive free or reduced lunches at school in addition to weekend bags of food provided by local churches. JA provides meals for the week of Thanksgiving break, the two-week Christmas holiday and the week of spring break in March.

“The Blessing Project helps lift the burden and strain off the parents who are struggling to provide food for their children,” Lauren says. “It also lifts the worries and burdens off the children who worry if they will have food when they are not at school. Some of the children we serve might only eat meals when they are at school so they are excited to have food come during the weeks they aren’t [attending].”

JA works with school counselors to identify students who would benefit from the Blessing Project. Heidi, who serves on the Blessing Project Committee, notes there are summer food programs similar to JA’s project, but the Blessing Project helps fill the food insecurity gap during the school year.

Laura adds that JA strives to “serve and be a vital part of the community with particular emphasis on children.” The Blessing Project is crucial to the children of Saline County. “It keeps them fed, and they return back from holiday break with the nourishment to focus on their education.”

This project further speaks to JA’s mission, Heidi says, as the organization focuses on enhancing the lives of children through education, service and love. “We believe that caring for a child today makes an important difference, not just for today, but for the future. Our mission is ‘Care today…Character tomorrow.’ No child deserves to go without food. Children who receive these bags know they will not go without food even when they are out of school. We want all children to be successful and to be their best, and they need their basic needs met in order to be their best.”

JA relies on a village of community support as well. “We would not be what we are today without the amazing support given throughout the year,” Laura says.

“There is no way JA could continue without the community,” Heidi adds. As chair of the Charity Benefit, she says that event is a fun way to get involved. Each year, the event runs on a different theme. This year, the event will take place Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Benton Event Center with the theme “Studio 501”–a spin on Studio 54. 

“The Benefit is a fun night full of dinner, cocktails, dancing, silent auction and casino-style games,” says Laura.

JA also hosts a family-friendly annual fish fry, catered by Riverside Grocery, in March. Smaller fundraisers pop up throughout the year. This year, on Nov. 30, McClure Fitness will host the first JA Bootcamp Fundraiser. Owner Marietta McClure will teach an hour bootcamp, where participants will gain contributions from friends and supporters based on how many calories they burn during the workout.

“Since it’s Small Business Saturday, we are thrilled that McClure Fitness, a small local business, is getting involved,” Heidi says. “JA loves our community and it is humbling to see so many businesses eager to sponsor events, donate items and support us.”

Heidi knows firsthand how an organization like JA can make a positive impact. “Coming from a single-parent household, I was appreciative of the opportunities I received from people who sewed into my life. When my husband started his business early in our marriage, I often went to the very events that JA put on. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:6, ‘he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.’”

Laura notes, “When I hear other members’ heart and testimony of why they got involved with JA, it makes me appreciate how versatile our chapter is. It makes it easy to see the emotional commitment members have to helping others, and it proves we can change the future of the children of Saline County.”

Heidi says , “It all comes back full circle. We give what we can. We, JA ladies, are just doing what we should be doing.”