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Sherri Richards, Published April 10 2013

Indoor playground latest way Junior League has worked to improve community

FARGO - Jo Kilander joined the Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead because her mother had belonged to the group. In the 1950s and ’60s, the women ran the Opportunity School for children with disabilities. Junior League meetings were a way for many of these women to get out of the house, she says.

When Kilander was an active member in the late 1970s and ’80s, she worked fulltime for IBM. The roles of women had changed in society, but the local Junior League again took on a major project, creating the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm, which opened in 1989.

Kilander recalls members ripping drywall out of the old farmhouse and going door to door wearing yellow hardhats to raise money.

“I think in the early days it was an unbelievable vehicle for women’s growth,” Kilander says of Junior League. “I saw young women who didn’t dare get up and speak in front of a crowd take on leadership roles.

“I think it provided women with an opportunity to lead in other ways than in the home or in the workplace, a different kind of involvement they could feel good about,” she adds.

Now opportunities for women’s leadership have advanced even further. Still, this year, the service group’s 40 active and 60 sustaining members, like Kilander, have once again taken on a large-scale project in the community, as a driving force behind the newly opened Community Indoor Park at Courts Plus.

Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead committed to raise $200,000 for the indoor playground. The Fargo Park District contributed an additional $100,000 and paid for the project, giving the Junior League five years to repay the amount.

The League has a goal of paying back the district in two years, and so far has raised about $70,000, says Christina Snider, the Junior League’s vice president of community impact and leader of the park team.

Snider, whose mother was a Junior Leaguer, joined the group when she and her husband moved to Reno, Nev. It was a great way to meet people and get involved in the community, she says. Snider transferred her membership when she and her husband moved back to Fargo.

Snider describes the indoor park project as rewarding.

“This is my first experience with starting a project literally from its foundation and watching it come to full fruition,” she says.

Snider and other Junior League members visited regional indoor parks, helped select equipment and interview potential installers as part of a design committee, and are now fundraising, making sponsorship pitches to corporations.

“It’s been inspiring to start from scratch and literally see it built in front of you,” she adds.

The group also hosts twice-a-month programming in the park’s community room. The space provides a permanent location for Kids in the Kitchen, an international Junior Leagues’ initiative to curb childhood obesity.

The Junior League budgets funds each year to send women to the Association of Junior Leagues International’s Organizational Development Institute, which Snider attended. There she learned about choosing and spearheading a community project.

Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead started in 1954, working to distribute polio vaccines. The group became a nationally recognized league in 1966.

All along, the League has had three key missions, promoting volunteerism, improving the community and developing the potential of women, says Heather Nesemeier, local League president.

“We all want to make the community a better place,” Nesemeier says.

Through the years, Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead has taken on dozens of smaller projects, aiding food pantries, child care centers, arts groups and various nonprofits. Bobbi Bricker, president-elect, describes it as “changing Fargo-Moorhead quietly.”

Yvette Nasset, director of the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm, fondly calls Junior League members the museum’s “founding mothers.”

“We wouldn’t be here without them,” she says.

When the Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead began working on creating Yunker Farm in 1985, only major metropolitan areas had children’s museums, Nasset says.

The women partnered with the Fargo Park District, which owned the north Fargo farmhouse. They held breakfast meetings with area contractors, who pledged labor or materials.

“The Junior League members themselves stripped the entire inside of the house,” Nasset says, including up to nine layers of wallpaper in some rooms. Husbands and co-workers were recruited to help.

They sold engraved white fence pickets, which now surround the museum property, for $30 each. They secured funding for exhibits and helped plan special events, like the Easter Eggstravaganza, which still happens each spring.

Throughout the years, Nasset has called on the Junior League to help with new projects or renovations. They created a pumpkin patch and miniature golf course. The group most recently remodeled the museum’s music room.

“They’re hands-on the entire process,” Nasset says. “I generally come to them with an idea, ‘I’d like to do this,’ and they take it and run with it. … My philosophy is we need to think outside the sandbox and they have mastered that.”

Snider says it’s important to understand the League isn’t a staffed nonprofit organization, but a group of volunteer women. Most have jobs, children or both.

“We’re really a group of women who juggle a lot of things,” she says.

She describes the women as a take-charge group.

“If you really boil it down and look at it, we’re all leaders. We take charge and get things done,” Snider says.

“Sometimes that means we get way too much on our plate,” she adds, laughing, “but we always get it done.”

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If you go

The Junior League of Fargo-Moorhead hosts several events this spring, including community outreach and a fundraiser. For more information, contact (701) 235-8815 or fmjuniorleague@yahoo.com.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556.