Junior Women’s Club

Marilyn Erwin, charter member and 1969-1970 president of the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club, and recent president Becki Campinaro. /photo: George Mendel

If the 50th anniversary is golden, then Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club has hit the jackpot, as the philanthropic and social group heads into the second half of its century. To commemorate the occasion, we asked an early president and the immediate past president to reflect on their times at the helm.

Erwin was a charter member and served as club president from 1969-1970. Erwin raised her family on Tampa Avenue. She worked in journalism, publications and public relations, including stints as the director of public relations and publications for Chatham College and director of publications for the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, where she was involved in establishing the Senator John Heinz History Center. She enjoys spending  time with her grandchildren, Braden and Olivia, and her cat, Nellie. She collects antiques, knits and creates crafts.

What are some vivid memories of Juniors? Being part of a group of enthusiastic, energetic, dedicated young women who were anxious to share their talents and do something meaningful for their families and their community. Meetings were always a lively exchange of ideas. The first meetings of my year as president were at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, which welcomed us because it was also new to Mt. Lebanon!

What charities did Juniors support then? We jumped right in during the second year of the club and supported a Headstart program in Beltzhoover. We presented programs at the Mt. Lebanon Teen Center and contributed to the South Hills Child Guidance Center (now FamilyLinks). The total budget for the year was about $2,000, and more than half was earmarked for seven philanthropic projects. We were very involved with other organizations and community leaders to accomplish these things, which included helping establish Performing Arts for Children (now a part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust) and bringing the American Wind Symphony Orchestra to Mt. Lebanon for a series of residencies. In the early ‘70s, the club took on a massive project by presenting the Pittsburgh area’s first juried artist market, the Art Fair, which involved hundreds of hours of work and hundreds of artists selling their creations. At the time, not even the Three Rivers Arts Festival had an artists’ market.

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Did families get involved with the activities? Whenever possible, we involved our young families. My husband and his colleagues in the advertising business helped us with graphic design and creative ideas. He provided entertainment at one party—a light show and Beatles music, which was radical “in the day!” Other husbands helped with projects as needed. The club generally provided babysitting. And, of course, there were social events throughout the year for just plain fun.

How do you think Juniors has changed? When I looked at a current “yearbook,” it appeared the club had not changed drastically. Officers and committee structure was much the same, and I sensed that the enthusiasm, energy and ideas were still flowing. Of course, the role of women in the workforce means that now most members  are employed, whereas we were mostly stay-at-home moms and wives. Fundraising has changed immensely. Nonprofits can now raise thousands of dollars for charities with big events. In 1968, we relied mostly on sales of cookbooks, baked goods and crafts for club income! We were donating time more than money!

Where do you think Juniors will be in 10 years? 20? 50? As long as there are women who want to contribute to their families and communities, this will be the organization to welcome them and encourage their activism.

Why do you think Juniors has endured for 50 years? At the beginning, we were guided by the Federation of Women’s Clubs with structure and inspiration. The departments and committees encouraged members to be active and creative. They were able to find a place in the club to satisfy and enrich their lives. The friendships that developed were very important. Many of my best friends today were my friends in the Junior Women’s Club in 1968. The work I did in the club also helped me establish myself in my career when my life as a full-time volunteer came to an end in the late 1970s.

What do Juniors have in common? In the 1960s, it was being a young mother with free time and a desire to meet and work with others like yourself to make a contribution to the community. Some of us had work experience and education, but it was not a requirement. We all had a willingness to do things outside the home.

How are Juniors different from one other? Each member brings her own experience and talents to the group and has something to share. Like in any organization, some like to lead and some like to follow … together they make a great team and can accomplish much.

What was your most important takeaway? The value of working together to achieve a goal no matter how large or how small. The value of friendships which last a lifetime, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from being part of an organization that survives and thrives.

The Carleton Drive resident joined Juniors in 2014 and was the 2017-2018 president. The mom of two sons has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and is the assistant department head for undergraduate affairs and an assistant teaching professor in the department of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the academic adviser for about 250 students in the department. In addition to coaching her son’s tee ball and soccer teams, she sews and runs.

What are some vivid memories of Juniors? Standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow Juniors while walking the track at Relay for Life following the luminaria ceremony; volunteering at Wallace Community Food Pantry with my children; celebrating our successes at our annual May member dinner and presenting the “big check” to our beneficiary. 

What are some charities Juniors have supported recently? Our major grant beneficiaries have included The Education Partnership, Strong Women Strong Girls and Foster Love Project. The work of these groups aligns with our club’s mission to support organizations that improve the lives of women and children, but our club connected with each in unique ways.  With The Education Partnership, we had the opportunity to connect directly with the schools by actually packaging and distributing the supplies purchased with our donation. We hope our involvement with Foster Love Project this year has helped them grow from a 100 percent volunteer organization into a sustainable resource for foster families in our area. 

Did your family get involved with any of the activities? Absolutely! Juniors are always talking about how we put our significant others to work whether it be helping to make posters for our community event, handling extra parenting duties while we are volunteering or doing heavy lifting (literally!)  I also love involving my kids. I have brought both my sons to volunteer at various events, and I value the opportunity to instill in them a drive to get their hands dirty and give back to their community and help those less fortunate than ourselves. 

Kidsgiving event–potluck included all the Thanksgiving favorites–kids donated new socks and underwear for Foster Love Project.

How do you think Juniors has changed since it started? I don’t think Juniors has changed dramatically over our history. Our foundational principles and the spirit of philanthropy are consistent across generations. What has changed are the ways in which we devote our time to fundraising and community outreach. Certainly, the world is a different place for women than in 1968. Members were listed under their husband’s names in our original directories. Women were not able to take out loans in their own name. So much has changed in a relatively short period of time in no small part because of trailblazing women like our founding members, yet we still have a long way to go in terms of women’s equality. 

Where do you think Juniors will be in 10 years? 20? 50?  I absolutely believe that Juniors will be around to celebrate our 100th anniversary. Our club has been sustained for so long due in part to our willingness to change and adapt. We’re already taking a close look at the way we’ve been fundraising, and our new board for 2018-20 is excited to implement their ideas to take the club in new directions. Our future will always involve women helping women and children in various ways. 

Why do you think Juniors has endured for 50 years? A spirit of philanthropy that is ingrained in the culture of southwestern Pennsylvania, a diverse membership of women, and a willingness to change and grow with the times.

What do Juniors have in common? Juniors are strong women with a vision for a brighter future. I’ve often seen this in our current membership. Celebrating our 50th anniversary this year has allowed me to get to know more of our alumni, and this trait shines brightly in them too. Many of the women involved in starting Juniors have a thread of philanthropy and community service running throughout their lives. What led us to Juniors is something at the core of our being … women who work hard to lift up those around them. 

How are Juniors different from each other? Our diversity is what makes our club so amazing and has sustained us for 50 years. It’s one of the things I value most about our group. Each member brings her own background and set of strengths to the table. We have teachers, lawyers, scientists, accountants, event planners and artists, among others. The convergence of ideas and various ways of thinking through problems that comes out of a diverse group of individuals is perhaps one of the most powerful forces for growth and change in the world. 

What is your most important takeaway? The truth behind the quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.