Eighty years ago, Lorraine Bender had the idea of creating a young woman’s club – one that would be dedicated to raising funds for charity. When it became a reality in February of 1937, the people of Riverside knew Bender had created something unique and meaningful.
Bender founded the Riverside Junior Woman’s Charity (RJWC), recruiting 35 of her female neighbors (most from Riverside-Brookfield High School’s class of 1935) to come together for fellowship and to assist community initiatives.
To kick off the club’s 80th year, the Juniors are hosting a fundraiser for a 1977 Schwinn Twinn tandem bike. To promote the event, the club has posted photos of Riverside political, service and social leaders with the bike on its Facebook and Instagram pages. The bike has also made appearances at the Riverside Swim Club and Farmer’s Market.
Raffle tickets can be purchased online at riversidejuniors.org. The winner will be announced at Riverside’s July 3 Concert in the Park and the winner is invited to ride the bike alongside the Juniors in Riverside’s Fourth of July Parade.
All proceeds from the fundraiser are earmarked for Riverside causes selected by the Juniors.
The club’s first event in April 1937 was a mother-daughter tea, and their first fundraiser held in the summer of 1938 raised a mere $45. While the club originally allowed only single women to join, in 1938 members voted to allow married women as members.
When World War II began, some members had to drop out and the club focused on driving membership from RBHS students. During the war, the Juniors helped the nation on the local front by assisting the Red Cross and helping fund a $300,000 bomber and Hellcat fighter aircraft.
Following World War II, Juniors started to become more of a social club, hosting rummage sales, potluck dinners and Christmas parties. During the 1950s, new members joined from neighboring communities including Brookfield, Berwyn and North Riverside.
The group continued to assist the community charitably through collecting books for mental hospitals, baking cookies for Scottish Home residents and donating more than $1,000 to the Riverside Youth Center.
While membership declined from 1960s through the 1990s, the Juniors continued hosting unique programs for the community. They sponsored children’s functions including Easter egg hunts at Swan Pond, manned tuberculosis mobile units, donated local theater ticket sales to area orphanages and contributed funds for new ambulance equipment.
One popular fundraiser was their local fashion show, an event once co-chaired in 1970 by the late Judy Baar Topinka. In the 1980s and ’90s, the group hosted discussions on topics for women during changing social times including how to boost self-esteem, car and home repair and financial planning.
The new millennium marked a new era for the Juniors, with the group raising more than $30,000 at their first dinner dance fundraiser at the Brookfield Zoo in 2000. All funds were donated to Riverside causes to celebrate the village’s 125th anniversary.
Today, the club is a registered 501(c)(3) organization with more than 120 members contributing in various capacities to fundraising efforts and committee chairmanship. This past fiscal year alone, the Riverside Junior Woman’s Charity raised more than $21,000 with support from local donors and businesses and contributed 1,000 hours of community service directly from club members.
Recent initiatives by the Juniors include awarding $1,500 college scholarship and co-sponsoring Riverside concerts, Riverside Arts Weekend and the Fourth of July Parade. The group donated $1,570 to aid local battered women and help troubled female veterans get back on their feet. The club also gave new reflective equipment and winter coats to school crossing guards and hosted a party for area kids to meet Santa at a holiday breakfast.
Additionally, the RJWC has featured membership from generations of Riverside families and new residents alike. The club boasts membership from women in their mid-twenties through sixties and seventies.
Lifelong Riverside resident Bridget Doherty joined the RJWC a year and a half ago, continuing in her mother and grandmother’s legacy of Junior membership.
“It’s a fantastic way to do some volunteering and give back to the community but also make fantastic connections and build relationships with other people in town,” Doherty said. “It’s a really nice way to connect with likeminded individuals who are passionate about creating a community that is special.”
RJWC member Valentina Drenth joined the charity two years ago after being a new Riverside resident and hearing from neighbors about the networking and charity opportunities the group had to offer.
“I love the fact that it’s women getting together for a common cause and helping other women by doing stuff in the community,” Drenth said. “It’s a great way to meet people and I was new to the area, so it made sense.”