This flyer from May 1981 was distributed in the community to recruit student volunteers at The Parenting Center. Flyer provided by: Sustainer Marsha O'Connor
The Parenting Center (TPC) and the Diaper Bank are two JLNO efforts that have seen exponential growth in the community, effectively evolving into legacy projects for the Junior League. According to the original bylaws of the TPC, “The Parenting Center grew out of the Association of Junior Leagues’ commitment to child advocacy. During three years of community research (1977-1980), it was determined that the most pressing need in the area of services to children was that of parent education.”
The AJLI’s focus was in large part due to a cornerstone book, The First Three Years of Life, by Dr. Burton L. White, which emphasized the importance of child development during the infancy through toddler years. Sustainer Marsha O’Connor recalls how Sustainer Peggy Wilson (then Active) had a connection to Dr. White and was able to recruit him to the League to discuss his book and its topic.
His presentation to JLNO ignited League members to join Marsha, already known to be a child advocate, in her efforts to form a center where men and women could learn how to be parents. Marsha says, “Before [the 1970s], the word ‘parenting’ was not a word people used.” Marsha and other League and community members wanted to shift this paradigm and provide parenting skills for the first three formative years.
“One of the reasons the League chose to move forward with this project was because of the impact Dr. White’s presentation made on the Junior League members,” says Sustainer Stephanie Haynes, who was the first Committee Chair for TPC. She continues by saying JLNO members understood “moms and parents needed to know the science [of parenting] as well as have a support system.” Sustainer Ruthie Frierson, JLNO President when Dr. White came to speak, says, “It was a unanimous vote to do this.”
In 1980, The Junior League of New Orleans and Louisiana Children’s Hospital opened the doors to The Parenting Center. In addition to providing a new platform to support parents across New Orleans, TPC has also benefitted JLNO members directly. At the time of TPC’s founding, Stephanie’s children were two and four and she keenly understood the impact the Center’s resources, programs and parent camaraderie would have on New Orleans families.
Sustainer Maria Huete says, “The Parenting Center was a huge lifesaver for me. I had very few places that I could go to alone with a set of triplets. The Parenting Center topped that list. I could watch them without fearing they would make an escape. There was a triplet mom support group where we shared tips and commiserated over our shared tribulations. Those moms are still a huge support even as our kids head off to college.”
Today, The Parenting Center continues to operate as a part of Louisiana Children’s Hospital. The center offers daily playtime and group classes for all types of family dynamics. And while most offerings focus on the early formative years (newborn-four-years-old), the parent/child studies have expanded to include gender specific classes for nine to 12-year olds entering those anxious tween years. There is a class for parents of six to 10-year olds, and there is even a grandparents class. For more information about their current offerings, you can stop by the center, located at 938 Calhoun Street near Audubon Park, or you can visit their website online at chnola.org/ParentingCenter.
The Junior League of New Orleans continues to work with TPC to provide the Safe Sitter program. Safe Sitter is a program to teach childcare skills to youth ages 11-13, including what to do if a child or infant is choking and how to approach babysitting as a business. “My two older children are both Safe Sitter trained, and I can feel much more confident with the inevitable juggle of work and family when they are in charge of themselves and their younger sister,” says JLNO Past President Katherine Raymond.
JLNO is proud of The Parenting Center — its beginnings and what it has grown to become. As projects like TPC become independent of the League, new projects arise that are just budding. In the past few years, the Diaper Bank sprouted almost overnight as a direct outgrowth of the TPC’s success.
Just as JLNO members like Maria benefitted from TPC, they also recognized JLNO’s unique ability to continue supporting women and mothers in the community. It’s not surprising that in 2013, Maria (then Active) was reading an article about diaper need. “I remember reading how the lack of diapers affect women as mothers both in their mental health and their physical family health when they have to decide between diapers and food.”
When Maria shared the article with JLNO President Jeanne Boughton and Sustainer Jessie Haynes (who was then Active and Chair of Project Development), it took only one League year for the project to be voted in. As Katherine Raymond, League President the year the Diaper Bank started, says “The Diaper Bank got off the ground quickly in part because the best practices were there for us to emulate. Unlike a brick-and-mortar building, the effort could start small, immediately and scale up as resources became available.” Sustainer Mary Beth Green, a first Chair of The Diaper Bank Committee, adds, “There was immediate support from the community. Woodward Design Build provided our first location — they were an early supporter.”
In 2018, the Junior League’s goal is to provide over 1 million diapers to its metropolitan region. While this is an incredibly ambitious objective that will help countless families, there is more to be done to meet the needs in the New Orleans community. League members and non-members can find information on how to increase awareness about diaper need and how to contribute diapers at jlno.org/community/diaper-bank. (Or take a look at page 14 in this current Lagniappe edition.)
This support the League gives women, children and families has been a priority for 95 years. Each decade, JLNO rooted one idea after another. “I see similarities in the Diaper Bank and The Parenting Center,” says Katherine. “Moms, especially new moms, need support. The Junior League has a history of empathizing with struggling new moms and providing needed support.”
The Parenting Center and The Diaper Bank were nurtured by caring and clever minds and tended by capable hands, each cementing JLNO's legacy of impact on countless New Orleans families.