Each generation has a particular vantage point to view our city’s history and the path tread down by our collective stories. Lost in our own days, we sometimes forget that we are a part of a city and one community.
Whether it’s a road away from racial hatred or a road that celebrates creatives, a community adopts a certain path tread by the people before them. The community saunters along until the moment when individuals and organizations rise up and insist on change, for better or worse. In the 1950s, a particular group in Jackson did just that.
During World War II, the economy desperately needed women to fill in the workforce gaps left by men who were fighting in the war. Women began to take a more active role in their communities and the workplace, but by the 1950s, men were still the titans of the business world. In Jackson, women were still snubbed by local clubs, networking groups, and business organizations dominated by men. Their avenues to serve the community, as a group, were limited.
In 1952, seventeen women banded together and changed the path of our community by creating the Jackson Service League: an all-female, non-profit organization dedicated to serving its community. Since its inception, the JSL has logged over 25,000 hours of community service. The money raised by their service has benefitted other non-profits that help women and children, such as the Dream Center, Area Relief Ministries, the Care Center, RIFA, and others.
If you are thinking about joining the JSL, you should count the cost. The JSL is not for the faint of heart. It’s a five-year commitment. In those five years, you are required to log a couple hundred volunteer hours.
That’s how my nine-month pregnant sister, Katie Hale, ended up volunteering for four days straight last October for the JSL’s Annual Thrift Sale. She had been a member of the JSL for two years. When she was picked to run the event, no one knew that her ankles would be the size of—well, she might be reading this.
When I walked into the main building of the Fairgrounds two days before the JSL Thrift Sale, literally hundreds of boxes, bags, and rows of racks were sprawled across the building. Women were labeling, hanging clothes, and organizing toys. Many of them had taken time off work or come before and after work to sort through hundreds of items to be sold. My very pregnant sister had been working for at least twenty hours in three days, not to mention working full-time.
The thrift sale raised $20,000, and twelve days later, my sister had a baby.
Each generation has the unique opportunity to affect the path of their community. In essence, our future is determined by our actions today, but the path of Jackson was determined, largely, by the actions of people no longer here. The women of the Jackson Service League have looked down the path that Jackson is on. Together they are treading a new path that makes the future of Jackson hopefully look less bleak. They weren’t content staying on a path that celebrates inactivity or turning their eyes away from the needs of their neighbor.
These women aren’t superheroes; they are flying under the radar, quietly kicking poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness in the butt. Most of their time is spent cheering at little league games, cooking dinner, working, and having babies, but they have also chosen to spend time, not just money, making Jackson a better place to live.
We all get twenty-four hours a day. I stood for maybe an hour at the Fairgrounds helping these women sort clothes and monitoring my sister’s ankles, but the one thought that played over in my mind was this: What’s my excuse?
While an argument could be made that you don’t need an organization or club to create change in the community or to feed just one family, the JSL has proved that it is greater than the sum of its parts. If each woman had had her own sale, I doubt that it would have been as effective as the collaboration that created a mighty wave washing over local poverty.
Several years ago, Karley Bond, the 2016 president of theJSL, was looking for a way to serve the community when a friend asked her to come to a JSL informational meeting. Bond sat down and listened as letters from local non-profit leaders were read out loud. Each told a different story on how JSL’s grant money impacted their organization and changed the lives of women and children in their organization.
“When I heard those stories, I knew that this was something that I wanted to be a part of,” said Bond. “A little money makes a big difference, but there’s never enough money. There is always something more that we want to do.”
Last year, Bond stood in front of the JSL members and read a handwritten letter from a woman at the Dream Center. She was going back to school, and it would change her family forever.. A degree would allow her to provide for her children and to be independent. Her path had changed at the hands of dozens of women who decide every year that they would rather serve than waste those extra minutes on Facebook, Netflix, and shopping.
It becomes clear that stories are the lifeblood of our community because they are what inspire us to change, to give, and to do. The JSL has provided numerous opportunities for the community to get involved and change the stories of people in need. For instance, a closet full of junk could be transformed into a scholarship for a woman to provide for her family.
In the last two years, JSL raised the funds to help pay for two women from the Dream Center to get their nursing degrees. During the Christmas season, JSL met the girls of Eden at Youth Town. Recognizing that not every need is financial, the women hosted a paint party and movie night to hang out with the girls. This spring the JSL will host their annual "Boots, Bands, and Bingo" on April 8 at the Snider Farms’ Barn. They also plan to have the JSL Golf Tournament on May 6 at Jackson National. Throughout the year, the JSL accepts unwanted items for the Thrift Sale. Many choose to call the JSL after their garage sale to pick up the unsold items, which are stored in a warehouse all year. This year’s thrift sale is on September 24.
While the JSL isn’t eradicating poverty, they are evoking change, which is not as easy as it looks. Our modern lives may not be as affected by prejudice or disagreement as much as inactivity and laziness. If we all sit on the couch, what will our city look like thirty, forty, fifty years from now? Are we willing to get our hands grimy instead of just writing a check? Are we motivated to offer our time, or are we too content with our routine? Are we willing to leave Jackson as it is? The women of the Jackson Service League have made their choice. What will yours be?
Proud to be a local Jacksonian, Ginger Williams tried to move away in college, but Jackson has that magnetic quality that pulls you back. As a child she lived in the trees, read lots of books, and wrote stories, and not much has changed. Ginger is a writer, a journalist, a volunteer, a homeschool mom, and a marketing associate for Reed Marketing. Her husband Matt and sons Blake and Ethan love living in Jackson and enjoying ice cream at the Old Country Store, soccer at North Park, and being only ten minutes from everything so that they are almost never late. She loves to tell the stories of Jackson so that others will become endeared to the city that she loves.
Photography provided by the Jackson Service League.