“It’s been so heartwarming to see how the women just want to come together and try to support the community,” says Deana Perry.
Perry, a native Roman and Darlington alumna, has been a League member since 2013, when she returned to Rome after finishing law school. “I had been volunteering since middle school… and I always feel better when I’m volunteering,” she says. “We’re blessed by what we give to others.” In her time with the League, Perry served as a service project coordinator, a provisional chair, corresponding secretary and vice president before being nominated for president for the 2020-21 League year.
“It’s very much an honor,” she says. “Looking back over the history of JSL and everything that these women have been able to accomplish over the years, it’s just nice to know that this organization felt that I could contribute something… it’s an honor to be included in their ranks and to see the women that have gone before me.”
Perry hopes to help League think outside the box. “I hope that I can foster a sense of creativity in League,” she says. “There’s a lot of tradition involved with League, and I think tradition is great, but the other side of tradition can be kind of stifling.” One of her goals as president is to see the League’s membership become more diverse.
She says that when she joined, she was the only Black member, and now she is one of the first Black women to serve as president. Since she joined, Perry has already seen the League become more diverse, so she hopes that the organization will continue on that path.
Perry started her term as president in May of 2020, at a time when the League was having to make adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many projects had to be cancelled or reconfigured to account for safety guidelines, Perry says that the League was able to come up with several new ways to help the community, especially essential medical workers.
“We’ve been able to donate masks to Harbin Clinic, we’ve been able to provide meals to Floyd and Redmond, and we had such an outpouring of support for that idea that we were able to give the whole COVID-19 ward at Redmond and Floyd meals for that day,” Perry says. “We’ve been able to do that twice now.”
League Vice President Cristine Pilgrim says that she has seen lots of creativity from the League in the past year. “COVID-19 forced us to change strategies,” she says. “There were a lot of projects that just sprang up out of our membership just wanting to help.” The League had to cancel one of their annual events, the Garden Tour fundraiser, in the spring of 2020, but they found a way to rework the event so that they could put it on safely this April.
“We usually have a big party at one of the gardens, and this year instead we’re doing tasting samples provided by downtown restaurants at all the different gardens,” Pilgrim says. “It gets us out of people’s houses and personal space, supports local restaurants and local businesses who we know are struggling right now, and it keeps people distanced rather than all being in one central location.”
“It’s time to try something new, and what better time?” Perry adds. The Garden Tour fundraiser will take place on April 24.
Another annual League event turned out to be the perfect COVID-safe fundraiser. According to Pilgrim, the League sold a record number of poinsettias at their annual poinsettia sale in November. “It was very social-distancing safe because our members could deliver poinsettias,” Pilgrim says. Poinsettia sales benefit League 4 Learning, a League project that provides school supplies for needy children in Rome City and Floyd County schools. One plant purchase supports school supplies for one child. “At this point, we’re serving 2,600 students,” Perry says.
Proceeds from Garden Tour and other League fundraisers benefit a variety of community partners, and League members have service assignments all over town. The League website says that JSL donates an average of $30,000 a year to local organizations that improve the lives of women and children in Rome and Floyd County. The League also runs Chieftain’s Museum, so many members volunteer and help with community programs there.
Perry has worked with organizations such as Restoration Rome, Women of Worth and Brighter Birthdays. “You get to see what Rome really needs when you’re working at one of these organizations,” Perry says. “It’s very humbling… to be able to be that close to the community and really feel like you’re making a difference.” Some of the League’s other community partners include Cancer Navigators, the Boys and Girls Club, Harbor House and the YMCA.
According to its website, the League is “an organization of women whose mission is to foster interest in the social, economic, educational, cultural and civic conditions of the community and to make efficient their volunteer service.”
Both Perry and Pilgrim have found it to be a wonderful opportunity to meet women who share their passion for giving back. “These are women that I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I’ve made some lasting friendships and lasting bonds with them,” Perry says. “We’re all of like minds. We all want to help, we all love volunteering, and that’s my favorite part about League.”
“Our League members… so many of them have such intense professional situations, too,” Pilgrim adds. “We’ve got tons of attorneys, teachers, people who work in nonprofits and social work… that’s part of the reason why League is so appealing. There’s a level of diversity in terms of careers, marital status, sexual orientation, race… you just meet a lot of people that you might not even realize live in Rome.”
More information about the Junior Service League and tickets for the upcoming Garden Tour are available on the League website, jslofrome.com.