In January 1956, the Westport Junior Woman’s Club was running as it had for 13 years as a department of the Woman’s Club. Projects included rummage sales, the children’s section of the Yankee Doodle Fair, a spring dance, card parties and the Fresh Air program. Proceeds of these functions were donated to charities such as YMCA scholarships, scholarships to cognitively impaired children, the Easter Seals campaign and the Fresh Air Fund.
In July 1956, an article in the Town Crier newspaper stated “The Executive Board of the Westport Woman’s Club voted a series of measures which would alter the future status of the Junior Woman’s Club with the parent organization.” The rules decreed the following: all decisions regarding fund raising would have to be approved by the Executive Board of the Woman’s Club, the juniors would no longer have control of any funds raised by their own activities, they would only be allowed two officers, Chairman and Vice Chairman (chosen by the seniors), the group’s status would be reduced from “Club” to “Department” (one of several departments in the Woman’s Club), and an age restriction would apply — 18 to 35 years of age.
After a request that these new rules be reconsidered was turned down by the Woman’s Club, 62 members resigned in protest and went on to form one of the most successful volunteer and fund raising organizations in the area.
The League became affiliated with the Westport YMCA, where it made its headquarters and obtained a charter with some 60 members on the rolls. The League members became members of the Women’s Department of the YMCA. In September 1956 they named themselves the Westport Young Woman’s League, elected officers and passed bylaws in less than two weeks from their split from the Woman’s Club, with Mrs. Gay Land as the first President.
Within a month after organizing, the membership swelled to 90. New members were received only in October and February, and by February 1957 the enrollment had grown to 110. The February membership drives ended in 1965 and membership was closed at 150 members a year with only a single drive in the Fall each year. This number was raised to 160 members in 1974, and to 200 members in 1991.
One of the biggest events for years to come, Bal de Noel, was one of the first socials to be organized. It was held at Longshore Country Club and in its second year attracted 350 people. The proceeds from the event were distributed to local charities.
The Juniors continued much as they had before: supervising the general fund drive for the newly-formed Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center, participating in the U.N. weekend, and assisting the YMCA with its fund drive. Contributions the first year were made to the Child Guidance Center, the Girl Scouts, the Society for the Prevention of Blindness, and Camp Hemlock (a camp for children with handicaps). They sponsored the Fresh Air Fund, the Easter Seals campaign and did pre-school vision testing. As the League celebrated its first anniversary, the Bridgeport Post announced it “A solid candidate for the most active women’s organization in Fairfield County”.
The Westport Young Woman’s League was incorporated in 1957 with its own Articles of Association and Bylaws. It was accepted as a member of the Connecticut State Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1958. In February 1959 League members first participated in the national fashion sewing contest sponsored by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the forerunner of our American Home Luncheon/Spring Luncheon.
It was also in February 1959 that the General Federation of Women’s Clubs official President’s pin, a gold and enamel design with gavel guard, was presented to a League President, Mrs. John Wilson.
The third anniversary of the League was celebrated at the YMCA and an anniversary gift, a pair of silver candelabra, started the 1959-60 year with elegance. During that year, the League arranged with the Woman’s Club to use the Clubhouse on Imperial Avenue, and in the fall of 1960 they returned to the Woman’s Club as renters, paying annual rental fees of $10 per member.
The following years were filled with fashion shows, boutiques and dances. STAR (the Society to Advance the Retarded) and the United Fund were added as special committees. The House and Garden Tour, Monte Carlo Night, and Auction Gala were popular fundraisers. In 1973 the League initiated a lecture series as a fundraiser and a service to the community.
The League sponsored the Fresh Air Fund was sponsored from 1957 to 1985. Youngsters from New York City had an opportunity to spend two weeks in Westport or Weston. Many friendships and special memories have occurred as a result of this fine service. Over 1,650 children had the pleasure of taking part in this program.
A 10th anniversary dinner was held during the 1966-67 year. Presented at the time were the President’s plaque, engraved with League Presidents’ names, and the President’s gavel. The following year, the League adopted the motto “To Achieve”.
The League will celebrate our 48th anniversary this year, with pride in so many achievements. Since 1956 the League has received grant proposals from various agencies in and around Westport. Decisions to allocate funds are based on thorough research and guidelines established by membership vote. Since incorporation, the League has given away over $3 million, of which more than $1.8 million was donated in the past 10 years.
In the past, the League was recognized for having given the largest gift by an organization, more than $15,000, to the STAR building fund in 1973; and likewise, with $30,000, to the Compo Beach Playground in 1989. Positive Directions, formerly The Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Council, Inc., a recipient of more than $42,000, received its primary financial and moral support from the League in 1971. The League was among the initial funding sources for Project Return. Over the years the League has donated more than $46,500 to Project Return, a not-for-profit residence in Westport for teenage girls in crisis, who are unable to live at home. The League also organized a “house shower” before its opening in March 1986, to start the house off with necessary items for running a household.
The League and Levitt Pavilion continue to enjoy a special relationship. In 1972, along with the Kiwanis Club and the Westport-Weston Arts Council, the WYWL formed the Westport-Weston Committee for the Performing Arts. The goal of the committee was to find a site for the band shell, oversee the construction, and then coordinate the cultural activities during the summer months for the residents of both towns. Members of the clubs agreed the unifying activities would provide Westport-Weston with a continuous and well-organized summer festival. It was also decided that the initial funding of this project would come from both the Kiwanis and the WYWL. The League and the Kiwanis worked raising funds, coordinating with Town officials to help find a location, building the pavilion, and present it to the town. Since then, the League has continued to help fund the children’s summer series. League members have served on the Levitt Pavilion Governing Board and as announcers at the Wednesday evening children’s series.
Crisis needs have always been a strong focus for the League. Over the years, the League has donated money to organizations and members have also donated their time to many programs in the area. Members cook monthly for Bread and Roses, the only terminal AIDS residential care program in Fairfield County. The League has worked closely with Interfaith Housing of Westport/Weston, an organization that operates emergency shelters and transitional housing facilities in Westport and Weston. Members have aided them through the years in many capacities, including cooking at the Gillespie Center for the homeless, and helped with funding and volunteers for their Dress for Success program. A tradition started by new members is the collection and distribution of toiletries and non-perishable foods to Kids in Crisis. Located in Greenwich, Kids in Crisis is the only emergency temporary shelter in Fairfield County which serves children, newborn through age 17, and offers counseling to the entire family. Members have participated in AmeriCares Homefront’s one-day blitz to renovate and repair the houses of elderly and handicapped homeowners in Fairfield County. Members have also made substantial contributions of time and funds to the Westport Historical Society, Earthplace (formerly the Nature Center for Environmental Activities), and the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. The Domestic Violence Crisis Center alone has received over $108,000 from the League in addition to many members significant contributions of time.
The League’s dedication to area senior citizens and others has long been part of the League commitment to community service. In 1976 WYWL began GLOW (Group Luncheon of Westport), a Senior Citizen hot lunch program at the Senior Center. It is still operating under the auspices of the Senior Center. League members have served since 1977 as regular and substitute drivers for Westport’s Home Delivered Meals Program, serving the homebound. Members of the League run the monthly Senior Center’s Bingo games and provide freshly baked goods as an added feature. In addition, the League is proud to have contributed funds to many other programs benefiting the elderly over the years, including Elderhouse and the Senior Centers of both Westport and Norwalk.
Agencies serving those with physical and mental disabilities receive donations of funds and direct service from the League. Allocations to the Connecticut Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (CACLD) have enabled it to develop innovative and unique projects and programs, such as “Focus on Families,” a 1986 series on parenting the learning disabled child. Our funding also assisted in the completion of their vital information and referral database used by area parents, professionals, researchers, and adults who are learning disabled. The Westport Young Woman’s League is the first civic organization to receive CACLD’s Inner Circle Award, previously reserved for philanthropists and corporations. In 2002, the League was honored as a recipient of a “Shining Star” award from CACLD in recognition of our years of support.
Significant contributions have been made to the CLASP group homes and recreation programs as well as STAR Residential and its Rubino Center for Infant and Child Development Services (ICDS) and the Lower Fairfield Regional Center. In addition our contributions to RESPECT (Recreational Special Education Teams), a recreation program run in conjunction with the Town of Westport, offers recreation programs to children with special needs. Additionally, the League funds programs and resources for the Westport Special Education Department (formerly named ‘The Westport Regional Center’).
From the beginning, supporting the needs of children has been a priority of the Westport Young Woman’s League. Setting a precedent with a contribution to Camp Hemlock, a camp for children with disabilities, the League has continued this tradition by donating many camperships and scholarships over the years. Recipients include the Family Center, McGivney Community Center, Earthplace, Child Guidance Center of Greater Bridgeport, New Pond Farm Education Center and Music & Arts Center for the Handicapped. Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center has received over $52,000 from the League to support its programs for high-risk children. In addition to summer camperships, as part of our commitment to the McGivney Center (the only community center on Bridgeport’s east side), every month League members bake and deliver over 100 cupcakes to help celebrate children’s birthdays, which might otherwise go uncelebrated.
Women and their families have always been a priority for League support. In addition to our contributions to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, we have contributed over $41,000 to Mercy Learning and $59,000 to Project Learn, an organization supported by the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. These centers provide support, childcare and training in a variety of skills that enable women to improve their lives and those of their families. Additional recipients in this area include Breast Cancer Survivor Center, Central CT YMCA – Families in Transition program, Housatonic Community Technical College and the Family & Children’s Agency.
Scholarships have been awarded to community-minded high school seniors since 1976. The League has supported the following scholarship funds: Staples Tuition Grants, The Susan Fund, University of Conn. Downstate Initiative. Youth and Senior scholarships, as well as financial aid for athletic programs, have also been funded.
Many local organizations look to the League for assistance in launching new projects. In 1998, Interfaith Housing asked us to provide assistance to its Dress for Success initiative where many League members also acted as volunteers and contributors. Finally, in 1999-2000, we provided substantial funding for the Kids Wall at Longshore Park, which was a combined effort of middle school students, community volunteers and other organizations.
Over the years the League has provided direct service in the schools. Since the mid 1970’s the League has given guided tours of historic Westport to elementary students via the Jennings Trail program and funded the cost of printing Picture This, a coloring book given to the third graders who take the tour. The Kids on the Block® troupe performs nationally-recognized educational puppet shows about disabilities to grade schoolers. The League has also supported the Westport PTA Cultural Arts Committee and the Norwalk Youth Symphony. Since 1971 WYWL has supported the Westport Public Library with Book-a-Baby, a gift of one book for each child of a League member born or adopted the preceding League year. The League covered the cost of the audio-visual area in the newly renovated children’s section of the Westport Library, and purchased a tile on ‘Decade Wall’ which commemorates the start of CAF. In 1998 the League donated money to Toquet Hall for the purchase and installation of their upstairs lounge. Toquet Hall is a place for teens in Westport to ‘hang out’ in a fun and safe environment.
Supporting health care in the community is also a concern to us all. In 1972 Norwalk Hospital dedicated its neonatal room to the Westport Young Woman’s League because of the League’s contributions of time, money, and effort. In 1989, $20,000 was donated for computerized monitoring equipment for the neonatal special care unit. Other health-related donations have included those to Nursing and Home Care, Human Services Council of Mid-Fairfield, Mid-Fairfield Hospice and the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service.
Since 1990 significant donations and support have been given to:
* Alcoholism & Drug Dependency Council, Inc. * Bread & Roses *Caroline House * Center for Hope (Children’s program) * Christian Community Action *CLASP* Connecticut Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (C.A.C.L.D) * Domestic Violence Crisis Center * Earthplace * Easter Seals – Camp Hemlocks Recreations Center * Elderhouse * Family Center Services * Family and Children’s Agency * First Night Westport/Weston * Housatonic Community Technical College * Human Services Council of Mid-Fairfield * Interfaith Housing Association * Kids in Crisis * Levitt Pavilion Children’s Series * Literacy Volunteers of America * Lower Fairfield Regional Center * McGivney Center * Mercy Learning Center of Bridgeport * Mid-Fairfield Child Guidance Center * Mid-Fairfield Hospice * Norwalk Senior Center * Nursing and Home Care * Project Learn * Project Return * Staples High School Tuition Grants Committee * STAR * Westport Department of Human Services * Westport Historical Society * Westport PTA Cultural Arts * Westport Police Athletic League * Westport Public Schools * Westport Senior Center * Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service * Westport/Weston YMCA *