04 Sep Junior League of Rhode Island strong after 90 years Valley Breeze
4 September 2012
There are tears in Kim Bigonette’s eyes as she recalls a day spent volunteering at the Crossroads homeless services center.
It started as an afternoon helping people understand nutrition labels to make healthier food choices, but Bigonette said she ended up helping one man, in his 50s, who did not know how to read at all.
This is just one “huge, touching moment” for the Lincoln resident that has made community service part of her life for the past 16 years, first in San Francisco, and then with the Junior League of Rhode Island after she moved to Lincoln 14 years ago with her husband, John.
Bigonette, originally from Walpole, Mass., is now the president of the state’s only chapter of the international organization that has been organizing women to help better communities for more than 90 years.
“Our mission is to promote volunteering, develop the potential of women, and improve communities,” she said.
Members support neighbors by completing day-long projects, committing to three to five years of volunteer work with an organization, providing monetary grants, and serving charitable organizations longterm.
The organization started in 1901 in New York City by 19-year-old debutante Mary Harriman, who mobilized 80 young women to improve the quality of life for immigrants in Manhattan. According to the national website www.ajli.org, Eleanor Roosevelt joined in 1903.
The Rhode Island chapter, with its office at 21 Meeting St. in Providence, was established in the capital city in 1921.
Today in the Association of Junior League International, there are members in 292 chapters across the country, as well as in Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
Bigonette said the organization looks at specific issues affecting specific communities. So while the national organization is currently working on stopping human sex trafficking, the Rhode Island chapter focuses on childhood obesity and bettering the lives of those in the state.
“The organization has evolved because society has evolved,” she said, explaining that the Junior League is working on establishing its own charitable organizations.
The Junior League currently partners with Amos House to support its Mother-Child Reunification Program, which allows mothers and children to reunite in a safe setting after the mother has been incarcerated, for example, before they live in permanent housing.
They also partner with The Autism Project of Rhode Island, which provides support and advocacy for autistic children and their families.
Among the Junior League’s past partners are American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Meeting Street School, Rhode Island Community Food Bank, the Ronald McDonald House and Saint Mary’s Home for Children.
Last year, Bigonette said volunteers contributed 9,545 hours valued at $193,286, in addition to holding fund-raisers and giving monetary donations and gifts.
Bigonette said the Junior League is always looking for more members.
While Bigonette, who calls herself a domestic engineer, currently volunteers full-time as well as at her daughter’s Mercymount Country Day School in Cumberland, she said many women balance the charity, career and family.
Member demographics list 43.3 percent of the 185 members as master’s degree recipients. While there are members from all over the state, most are from northern Rhode Island, Bigonette said.
New members are placed on a committee or council, she said, based on skills they already have, or those they want to enhance.
Bigonette said she knows first-hand how important the organization can be for women.
“It has influenced my life,” she said. “It has been great for me. It’s been an invaluable experience. It’s been priceless.”
General membership meetings are held once a month, and are open to the public.
An informational session will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 24 Meeting St. in Providence, across the street from the organization’s headquarters.
The third annual Par for a Cause golf tournament will be held on Saturday, Sept. 8. The event starts at 1:30 p.m., and spots are still available. Call 401-331-9302.