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Major League Community Building with the Junior Service League of St. Augustine

By David Boegaard

St. Augustine, Florida may be the nation's oldest city, but it needs engaged citizens to give it life, preserve what is great, and develop the new. The Junior Service League of St. Augustine, a volunteer women's organization, has worked for three quarters of a century to strengthen the community fabric of St. Augustine. With hard work and a great spirit, they have done much to nurture and preserve this beautiful, historic city.

The Junior Service League of St. Augustine was first started in 1934, as an organization for local women to engage in projects that will benefit the city. The dedicated efforts of the League arise from a sense of responsibility to the city that has provided them with so much. Over the years, the League and the city of St. Augustine have formed an ever-deepening bond. "Each lady in the league has her own story of how St. Augustine has inspired, changed, or aided them in some way," says Junior Service League Communications Chair, Barb Holland. "We show our gratitude by paying it forward."

The Junior Service League has worked to serve the city in numerous ways, from landmark preservation to the organization of social service facilities. Their largest project to date was the restoration of the historic St. Augustine Light-Station, but other major projects include the current efforts to build a Children's Museum, and the creation of a needed family visitation center.

The St. Augustine Light-Station is a lighthouse located at the tip of St. Augustine's port -- the oldest port in the nation. "For 142 years as ships sail into our port the first landmark that they see is the lighthouse; it is the best representation of that heritage," says Holland. The Junior Service League has dedicated themselves to the extensive task of renovating the lighthouse, preserving it as a cultural and historical landmark for future generations.

The project began when the lighthouse was scheduled to be demolished. "At the time, 1980, the keepers' house was owned by the county and the lighthouse belonged to the U.S. Coast Guard," Holland notes. "Both the county and USCG had decided that the light-station no longer served a purpose and to save money they would do away with it." The League stepped in and dedicated 15 years and many thousands of dollars to purchasing the property and renovating it. "Now the story of the lighthouse and all that it represents is shared every day at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum and we could not be more proud," says Holland.

While this sort of public service is typical of the Junior Service League's work, they also engage the community to provide necessary social services, such as the Kids Bridge Family Visitation Center. The Seventh Judicial Circuit brought the need for a coordinated family visitation center to the League's attention in 1997. The region lacked a center where children who had been separated from their families could visit under supervision.

"It was because of the passion of league members that we were able to commit to the project and make it a reality," says Holland with pride. Kids Bridge opened in 2002, says Holland, and "to date it has served over 2,000 families." Today, the Kids Bridge website explains that the center provides "a supervised family visitation center that offers on-site supervised visits, parent exchange services, and several programs and courses to help strengthen families."

Right now, the Junior Service League is focused on bringing TAG! Children's Museum to the St. Augustine region. In order to gain support for this project, they created a "Feel the Wheels" fundraiser. "We invite cars of all different shapes, sizes, and purposes to give kids the opportunity to learn about them," says Holland. With kids getting to see and even touch all kinds of vehicles, including firetrucks and other service vehicles, helicopters, boats, and even the occasional flashing lights, this program is a sure hit with the little ones.

And the men and women who operate the vehicles are present as well, creating a wonderful opportunity for warm appreciation and learning. "By bringing all of these people and vehicles together kids gain a better understanding of the community in which they live," says Holland. As the father of a toddler, I can attest that the kids and adults all to love these events.

In the spirit of care and dedication, the Junior Service League of St. Augustine has continued its tireless work to make St. Augustine a great place. "Our passion for this community is that makes our organization essential," Holland emphasizes. But regardless of their many accomplishments, the League is deeply humble and thankful for the beauty and community of St. Augustine, a city that is worth all the effort, suggests Holland. "All of our past, present, and future projects reflect all that this community has done for us."

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