For nearly a century, the women of the Junior League of Houston have been an integral part of the growth and development of the city of Houston. With the goal of creating change in the city through impactful volunteerism, the organization has been on the forefront of building the city as it is today.
The Junior League of Houston was started in 1925 by 12 civic-minded women who saw a need for a well-baby clinic for the underserved in the community. As mothers themselves, the founders realized the importance of providing quality health care for new mothers and their children who would otherwise not receive it.
“The Junior League Children’s Health Clinic was the first of many community projects started by the Junior League of Houston,” said Junior League Houston President Shannon Wiesedeppe. “At the time, Junior League Provisionals were required to work in the clinic as part of their training.”
By 1927, the Junior League of Houston operated the Junior League Children’s Health Clinic in the First National Bank Building, providing health care services to underprivileged children of all ages. Through this clinic, the League began working with Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center), which would begin a partnership with the medical community of Houston that still exists today. When the Texas Medical Center opened in 1945, Junior League members were some of its first volunteers.
Through their partnership with Hermann Hospital, the Junior League clinic moved to the medical center Dec. 1, 1944. The clinic was moved to the outpatient department of Hermann Hospital and renamed the Junior League Children’s Health Clinic of Hermann Hospital Outpatient Department and served as a training ground for medical students at Baylor College of Medicine. In addition to assisting in the clinic, in 1945, League volunteers also began a program to assist patients during their stay in the hospital. This type of patient interaction with League volunteers continues to this day as part of the League’s Community Program.
Before the doors of Texas Children’s Hospital opened in 1954, the Junior League had already begun providing services for the hospital. The organization opened the Junior League Diagnostic Clinic in the outpatient department at Texas Children’s Hospital, which included 11 highly specialized clinics.
“Even before we opened our hospital, the Junior League had formed relationships with our founders at Texas Children’s,” said Paige Schulz, director of Volunteer Services at Texas Children’s. “For more than 60 years, the League volunteers have been providing high-quality service to our patients, which has made a huge impact on our hospital and the community as a whole.”
As the landscape of Houston continued to grow and change, the Junior League grew with it. In 1974, the League began working with the Baylor Teen Clinic to help new mothers develop child-rearing skills.
“We have loved working with the women of the Junior League of Houston because they are great role models for our patients,” said Peggy B. Smith, Ph.D., director of the Baylor Teen Clinic. “They have been very successful in raising their children and they can talk to our patients from their hearts.”
Volunteers support new teen mothers by visiting their bedsides and delivering prepared information regarding childcare, parenting, family planning and nutrition. Phone outreach volunteers are paired with newly pregnant teens and teen moms who need additional support and encouragement. These volunteers call the teen mothers weekly throughout the year through a program called “Best Friends” and provide funding for the clinic.
“The women of the Junior League are very foresighted to look at the sorts of things that are demanded of our community today, but are not always easily accessible,” Smith said. “They have been very gracious and generous in providing us funding for things such as car seats for our new moms.”
In an effort to improve immunization rates in the city and to find a permanent medical home for the uninsured and underinsured populations, the Junior League donated the SuperKids Pediatric Mobile Clinic in 2000. For the first two years, the League supported all of the clinic’s operating expenses. The bus travels to patients who are unable to travel to a doctor’s office for regular checkups and is a collaborative effort with Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Independent School District, the City of Houston and Harris County Hospital District.
“The SuperKids Pediatric Mobile Clinic allows us to reach patients in the community who are unable to travel
to our hospital or to Texas Children’s Pediatrics practices,” Schulz said. “The mobile clinic helps us provide immunizations and back-to-school checkups, and it has been revolutionary for us in terms of the way we care for patients in the community.”
Junior League of Houston members volunteer at organizations throughout the medical center and provide a variety of different services for the hospitals. At Texas Children’s, volunteers engage in play therapy with patients and their siblings in the Junior League Health Care Clinic, the Abercrombie Playroom, Library, Cancer Center Clinic and the Renal Center. Volunteers also work in Radio Lollipop, present puppet shows, and prepare and make crafts and dolls to educate and comfort young patients. At the Pavilion for Women, volunteers serve as Resource Ambassadors, greeting and assisting patients, visitors and staff in a friendly manner at the information desk. Volunteers also serve as NICU Sibling Playroom Volunteers, providing normalized play experiences for siblings of infants as well as caregivers of patients admitted to the NICU.
“Volunteering through the Junior League is a great way to give back to the community,” said Junior League member Teri Mesquita. “If we can just spend 30 seconds helping these kids forget about why they are here and bring them joy through stickers and coloring books, then we have done our job.”
At Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Junior League volunteers provide emotional and social support for patients and families. They serve in a wide variety of positions, including Play Pals, NICU or Pedi-ER waiting rooms, information desk attendants and patient/visitor escorts. At Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, volunteers entertain patients through arts and crafts, puppet shows, games and puzzles in the play rooms, teen rooms and other children’s areas. At Camp Janus, volunteers serve as counselors providing a traditional summer camp experience for pediatric burn patients ages five to 18.
“I strongly believe that volunteers are necessary because they serve as the non-clinical face in an incredibly clinical environment, and our patients know that they are here out of the goodness and kindness of their hearts,” said Kristen Wilkerson, manager of Volunteer Services at Memorial Hermann-TMC.
In the past year, the Junior League of Houston provided $2 million in volunteer time and support to
38 community projects around the city of Houston. In addition, the League’s community outreach efforts include Community Assistance Grants, Emergency and Resource Contingency Grants, Community Collaborations and Outside Board Representatives. They continue to build the city of Houston through volunteerism and outreach to all areas of the community.
“The League has been a part of the growth and development of Houston, as well as those members who have had the opportunity to be trained and mentored through their association with the League,” Wiesedeppe said. “I am so honored to count myself as one of over 5,300 members who continue to fulfill the League’s mission and do my part to build well-being in our community.”
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