Volunteers at the Dawn of the 21st Century: A Contemporary Agenda for the Association of Junior Leagues International
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 21 Sep 1999, p. 72-83
Description
Speaker
Dedecker, Clotilde Perez-Bode, Speaker
Media Type
Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
The Association of Junior Leagues International--what it is and what it does. Voluntarism as an international movement. Some history and background to the Junior League. The speaker's own experience in the Junior League. Some examples of projects undertaken by the Junior League of Toronto, and other Junior Leagues. The empowerment of women volunteers and the Junior League's role as facilitator. Why people volunteer. The need for training and ways in which the Junior League has provided it. Some disturbing findings about domestic violence. An invitation to the audience to join the efforts to eliminate domestic violence.
Date of Original
21 Sep 1999
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Language of Item
English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker President, Association of Junior Leagues International VOLUNTEERS AT THE DAWN OF THE 21ST CENTURY: A CONTEMPORARY AGENDA FOR THE ASSOCIATION OF JUNIOR LEAGUES INTERNATIONAL Chairman: Robert J. Dechert President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Mary R. Byers, Author and Historian, Past Board Member, Junior League of Toronto and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; The Reverend Prue Chambers, St. Nicholas Anglican Church, Birchcliffe; Jennifer Fleming, Student, St. Mildred's Lightbourn School, Oakville; Monica Wright-Roberts, President, The National Breast Cancer Fund; Sara Laidlaw, President, Burlington Hamilton Junior League; Gareth Seltzer, Private Client, Wealth Management Professional and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Patricia Hetherington-Keys, President, Junior League of Toronto; and Brian Ross, Partner, Highway Entertainment.

Introduction by Robert J. Dechert

The Association of Junior Leagues International is an organisation of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable. The association is comprised of 293 Leagues in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom with a collective membership of more than 193,000 women.

The Junior League reaches out to women of all cultures who seek active community involvement and opportunities for leadership through voluntarism. Junior Leagues strengthen communities by embracing diverse perspectives, building partnerships and inspiring shared solutions.

In Canada, the Canadian Federation of Junior Leagues links eight community Junior Leagues across Canada. In addition to undertaking community charitable activities, the Canadian Federation of Junior Leagues acts as public advocate and lobbyist on women's issues and issues of relevance to women.

The Junior League of Toronto was founded in 1926. Over the last 70 years, the Toronto League has supported hundreds of community causes including children's needs and issues, the arts, literacy, substance abuse, the disabled, mental health, sexual assault and women's issues.

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker knows a great deal about the power of voluntarism. She has been a member of the Junior League of Buffalo, New York for 15 years.

In the western New York community, her service as a community leader includes Chair of the Mayoral Council on Hispanic Issues, Trustee of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Executive Board Member of the National Conference, Leadership, Buffalo State University of New York Community Council and the United Way. She is a founder of the Western New York Women's Volunteer Roundtable and of Latinas United for Progressive Action.

In 1997, Ms. Dedecker received the New York Governor's Award for Excellence in Community Service. She holds a B.A. from Canisius College and is currently pursuing a masters degree in bilingual education from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Ms. Dedecker has worked as a teacher for the past 16 years. She is a naturalised U.S. citizen and a native of Cuba. Clotilde is married to Mr. Adrian Dedecker and they have two children.

Ms. Dedecker has agreed to address us today on the critical contributions of volunteers at the dawn of the 21st century.

Ladies and gentlemen, please help me in welcoming Ms. Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker to the podium of The Empire Club of Canada.

Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker

Good Afternoon! Bonjour! Buenas Dias!

I'm thrilled to be here speaking today at such an esteemed podium and to such an esteemed group.

And I'm particularly pleased to be here because this is a global forum. The Association of Junior Leagues International is an organisation of nearly 200,000 women in 295 communities in Canada, Great Britain, Mexico and the United States. We are an international organisation of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.

Voluntarism is an international movement and the Junior Leagues continue to be a key contributor to this movement. Our organisation is preparing to celebrate our centennial, which means that we have quite a track record in the business of voluntarism. The Junior League movement was founded in 1901 in New York City by Mary Harriman, a 19-year-old college student with a social conscience. Moved by the suffering she saw around her, Mary mobilised a group of 80 other young women to work with immigrants at a settlement house in Manhattan's Lower East Side. At a time when virtually the only roles open to women were wife and mother, Mary Harriman created an opportunity for women to make a difference in the public sector.

Eleven years after the Junior League's founding, in 1912, the organisation went international with the founding of the Junior League of Montreal. Many new Leagues have followed since then.

Last summer, I was in the audience to hear a speech made by U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Her perspective as a prominent woman leader on the international stage is unique and invaluable. Secretary Albright spoke about the role of women worldwide, and described some of the inspirational stories that she has heard and witnessed as she travels from country to country. I felt she was speaking of our movement when she identified the empowerment of women around the world as the defining force of the 21st century. Secretary Albright reported that across the globe she sees one common theme-women's desire to acquire the skills that they need to create a safe, healthy and equitable future for their communities.

That was certainly my desire when I joined the Junior League of Buffalo, New York 16 years ago. And that is the desire of the many women whom I have met in my travels as President of The Association of Junior Leagues International. Women who care deeply about their communities and are giving of themselves, of their precious and limited time, to make things better.

I've experienced first hand what it means to be helped by caring people who unselfishly give of themselves to their communities. Six months after my family immigrated to the United States from Cuba, we moved to Buffalo where we were met by a volunteer from Catholic Charities. For the next two years this volunteer organisation provided us not only with clothes and public housing, but perhaps more importantly they gave us emotional support.. To this day I have not forgotten. To this day I am grateful for the support and encouragement that they gave us. I owe them thanks for my deep-seated roots in voluntarism, and I thank the Junior Leagues for helping me, to acquire the skills that I need to give back positively to the communities that so generously helped my family.

Since its founding in 1926, the Junior League of Toronto has been a local living exemplar of this commitment, this desire and this caring for community. For more than 70 years, the Junior League of Toronto has endeavoured to make a positive impact on the quality of life for thousands of residents of the Greater Metropolitan Toronto community. Junior League members have contributed more than 30 million volunteer hours in expertise, enthusiasm and hard work and over $2.5 million to. support or initiate over 400 community projects.

The Junior League of Toronto's activities speak of devotion to children's needs and issues and concern about the arts, literacy, substance abuse, the disabled, mental health, sexual assault and women's issues. Currently, the League is focusing on projects which "Help Parents Raise Healthy Children."

Some of those projects include:

- The Family Resource Centre at the Health Station where the League in partnership with The Health Station has developed and operates a centre that offers family support programmes grounded in a preventive approach and meeting the needs of today's parents and teens.

- The York Region Abuse Program, where the League developed and is currently presenting an educational programme about child sexual abuse to teenagers through the York Board of Education. This programme is the only treatment and prevention service for victims of child sexual abuse and their families in the York Region.

- At the Ronald McDonald House II, League volunteers are providing administrative support to the House, which is a temporary home for families and their children who are undergoing treatment for life-threatening diseases. And in support of this project, in 1993 the Junior League of Toronto secured donations in excess of $1 million for the Ronald McDonald House Designer Showcase.

We are proud of our Leagues and there are hundreds of accomplishments I could share with you on the positive impact the Junior League has made and continues to make all over the world.

In 1952, the Junior League of Mexico City created a comprehensive, internationally recognised centre for the blind. Visited and lauded by Helen Keller, the centre was the first of its kind and set the standard. At a recent meeting in Mexico City, my sister board members and I explored our international role and had the privilege of hearing from a number of prominent Latina leaders in the volunteer sector. Jenny Polit de Sanchez of Ecuador, VicePresident of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (or IAVE), spoke about the volunteer movement in Latin America.

She said: "In my 25 years of volunteer work I have been witness to and creator of innumerable organisations in South America. The road has not been a smooth one. We have had to overcome the misunderstanding of governments, the underestimation of various power circles as well as the enormous differences between men and women which have been characteristic of our countries for many years."

However, these challenges serve to inspire us to push forward, work harder and overcome the hurdles placed before us.

What are those differences between men and women to which Jenny Sanchez refers? Women's leadershippaid or volunteer, at the community level or on the global stage-is still the exception and not the norm. While women have experienced increased educational and professional opportunities in many parts of the world throughout this century, that is not the case everywhere. Clearly, women still need a place to develop their leadership skills and find their voice in community.

For many, volunteering is still the best and the only opportunity to make a difference. The volunteer arena is a place where women can be taken seriously, if they are not taken seriously elsewhere. As we think globally, and we must think that way today, voluntarism is critical to the strengthening of local communities.

To return to Secretary Albright's observation about women's empowerment... in many _societies, just as was true in our society at the turn of the last century, volunteering is the only way for women to gain the skills they need to transform their communities.

Nearly 100 years after its founding, the Junior League endures as a key facilitator in the empowerment of its women volunteers. After a century of social transformation and the enfranchisement of women, the Junior League prepares women to influence and serve their immediate communities and inspires them to step onto even larger platforms. Some well-known trailblazers among our membership have been Bobbie Sparrow, Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Bird, Katherine Hepburn, Margaret McTavish and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

I was tremendously moved to learn about the progress that has been made in the volunteer sector in South America, to hear from other women in Mexico and to see first hand the committed and powerful work that the Junior League of Mexico City is doing in a region where volunteering is not yet woven into the social fabric. As South American volunteers prepare for the 21st century, they are the founders of a movement, a movement that is growing rapidly and working on many fronts to integrate voluntarism into the larger culture.

In the words, again, of Jenny Sanchez, they are "raising awareness that voluntary service is a committed and unifying response, by understanding that we are fighting against poverty, pain and the enormous social differences that still persist in our countries."

Here in North America, as the 21st century dawns, we are fighting the same fight as our neighbours to the south. Poverty, pain and social differences know no national boundaries and are found in every community. But one difference is that, while the problems are many and the challenges complex, we have a history and culture of volunteer service that unites us. According to last year's comprehensive "National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating," fully one-third of Canadian adults volunteer their time to charitable organisations. And many more-almost 75 per cent of Canadians-help others informally, such as driving people to appointments or doing unpaid teaching or coaching. Truly impressive!

Why do people volunteer? Volunteer Centres across Canada report that unemployed people volunteer to combine their altruism with a desire to enhance career prospects. New Canadians-recent immigrants-volunteer as a way to integrate into their new country. And an increasing number of volunteers come from the corporate world, from companies eager to demonstrate their responsibility by encouraging employees to work in the community. In Mexico City, Jenny Sanchez spoke of volunteer service as a "life choice that women have made as a way to realise ourselves as human beings."

Women and men become more fully realised through volunteering. Virtually every member of the Junior League speaks of getting more out of her service than she is giving. And the rewards deepen as volunteering becomes professionalised in the best sense, as we give of ourselves with skill and confidence. Whether we are bringing meals to shut-ins, building housing for the homeless or offering our business expertise as a board member, our volunteer contributions and leadership are critical to the health of the 21st century.

From its earliest days, the Junior Leagues recognised the need for training in order to better equip their volunteers to serve the community. By 1906 League members were attending lectures where social service agencies explained their work. The seeds of the Junior Leagues' shared mission were planted even then "to improve communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers."

Last summer in Edmonton at the Conference of the International Association for Volunteer Effort, several of us from the Junior Leagues presented a panel that offered an international perspective on Training Women for Community Leadership. At the upcoming Canadian Conference on Voluntarism next month, the Canadian Federation of Junior Leagues will be offering a workshop that will train non-profit organisations to develop and hone their advocacy skills.

Training skilled volunteers and community volunteers is the cornerstone of the Junior Leagues' agenda for the 21st century. Women's leadership is needed more than ever, and we are proud to be part of this worldwide movement.

Another key component of our current agenda is the issue of domestic violence. The Junior League has a history of responding to crises, and domestic violence is a crisis of astounding proportions. We are committed to using our resources and vast geographic reach to work to eliminate this crime. Domestic violence is a violation of fundamental human rights-a global problem that needs to be approached on both a local and global level.

We recognise now that domestic violence is not a private, family matter, but an issue that affects the entire community. As part of an ongoing initiative to inform the public about family violence issues, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics produces an annual profile on family violence statistics. The purpose of the report is to provide current data on the nature and extent of domestic violence incidents in Canada and to monitor trends over time. Each year, the profile has a special focus. This year's report is on criminal justice and other system responses to the problem of family violence, including responses by police, courts and correctional services, as well as Canada's transition homes for victims of family violence.

I'd like to share with you some of the disturbing findings on this report:

- In 1997, victims of spousal violence represented 17 per cent of all victims of violent offences reported to a sample of 179 police agencies in Canada.

- Women accounted for a large majority-88 per cent-of all reported spousal violence victims.

- Young wives are at the greatest risk of spousal homicide. In the 1990s, married, separated or common-law women under the age of 25 were killed at a rate of 29 per million.

- Fathers more often than mothers were the reported perpetrators of assaults against children and youth, regardless of the type of abuse or the child's age.

- In incidents involving parents, fathers were accused in nearly all (97 per cent) of sexual assaults, and a large majority (71 per cent) of physical assaults.

- cannot stress enough that violence does not impact only on assaulted women and abused children; it reaches neighbours, the police, the justice system, the child welfare system, the health-care system, the women's employer and co-workers, her friends, the children's teachers, every other student in those children's classroom, and on and on.

In short, domestic violence affects all of us and the women of the Junior League care deeply about that. On this issue, the Junior League speaks with the voice of experience. More than 100 Leagues are already involved in the issue of domestic violence and many, many more plan to take it on.

The Canadian Federation of Junior Leagues has adopted the prevention of domestic violence as its national focus area. The Federation is in the process of determining a project to address the issue of domestic violence both locally and nationally-a project that will be done by all eight Leagues across Canada and whose impact will be felt from Halifax to Vancouver. The project will be implemented during the Year 2000.

The Association of Junior Leagues is developing a public awareness campaign about domestic violence that all Leagues can use in their communities, adding collective strength to the work they are doing individually. We are developing a two-pronged initiative: one that will focus on youth and on breaking the harmful cycle of domestic violence that tragically gets passed down through the generations. The other approach will be through the workplace, where companies can provide support to their employees who are victims of abuse. We know that, nearly 200,000 voices strong, the Junior League has the power to take leadership here.

I invite you to join us in our efforts to eliminate domestic violence in the 21st century. Women and children have a right-a fundamental human right-to live in violence free households. Legislators, police, doctors, clergy, employers, you and I can work together to eliminate this crime. There are many ways to get involved. It can be as simple as putting a bumper sticker on your car or educating yourself so that you recognise the often-subtle signs of domestic abuse. Donate money, clothing or time to a shelter. Women-join the Junior League and work with us. Men-we particularly need to hear and feel your presence. This is not just a "women's problem." It is an epidemic that affects all of us.

Margaret Mead, the renowned anthropologist, who contributed vastly to the understanding of human history, said: "If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognise the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.' The Junior League's vision statement echoes Dr. Mead's words. We are here to develop our gifts and to help our sisters develop their gifts. We are here to strengthen our communities by embracing diverse perspectives, building partnerships and inspiring shared solutions. As an association nearly 200,000 women strong, we are committed to working with everyone in this room to protect and create the kinds of communities-safe, healthy and equitable-that we all want for the future. We at The Association of Junior Leagues International will be standing there with you.

Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Mary R. Byers, Author and Historian, Past Board Member, Junior League of Toronto and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Volunteers at the Dawn of the 21st Century: A Contemporary Agenda for the Association of Junior Leagues International


The Association of Junior Leagues International--what it is and what it does. Voluntarism as an international movement. Some history and background to the Junior League. The speaker's own experience in the Junior League. Some examples of projects undertaken by the Junior League of Toronto, and other Junior Leagues. The empowerment of women volunteers and the Junior League's role as facilitator. Why people volunteer. The need for training and ways in which the Junior League has provided it. Some disturbing findings about domestic violence. An invitation to the audience to join the efforts to eliminate domestic violence.