Let’s play a little game.
An international organization whose headquarters is located in Chesterfield is closing in on its 100-year anniversary. Do you know which one?
International flags fly in front of its building and many area residents and employees pass by it, most of them wondering what lies within.
The organization has a passion for positive change on a global scale.
Have you guessed it yet?
“It’s really common for people to stop in and ask what kind of work we do. They see the Turkish flag and assume we do something international, but don’t know who we are or what we’re about.” said Emily Anderson, growth and development manager for Junior Chamber International, the organization in question.
Not everyone has heard of JCI, but many people are familiar with the Jaycees, or the Junior Chamber. Since its inception, the organization has left a deep impact in the community.
A Jaycee near you
There are numerous JCI chapters in both St. Louis and St. Charles, though they tend to go by different names. Many simply refer to themselves as Jaycees. And, as different as their names can be, so are their missions. Anderson said the projects of the local chapters are determined by the needs of their communities and the passions of the individual members.
For example, the St. Charles Chapter of the Jaycees partners with Angels’ Arms each December to select approximately 10 children from local foster homes with whom they celebrate the holidays. The children are given $100 to spend on themselves or another person at Target. Members wrap those gifts and deliver them on Christmas Day.
On the international level, the St. Charles Jaycees, in a joint effort with JCI, this year raised money for Nothing but Nets, a global campaign to send mosquito nets to Africa to help combat malaria. The Jaycees held a free-throw tournament with the St. Charles Boys and Girls Club, and used the opportunity to educate the gathered kids about the problem malaria poses to children in other parts of the world.
Jennifer Smith, president of the St. Charles Jaycees, said she’d like to see her chapter conduct more events to educate residents and children while supporting an international cause. In fact, much of JCI’s local work focuses on interacting with and engaging kids, and using that as a springboard to educate them on larger issues prevalent in other parts of the world.
“Children in this community and the county area, it’s really easy for them to grow up in this bubble, and really distant from the problems of the world and even problems in their local area,” Anderson said. “We know that while our problems may be relative to St. Louis, we’re not the only ones experiencing them, and we can learn from other initiatives around the world to solve our own local problems.”
One for all, around the world
While JCI and its affiliates work as separate units, all are members of the larger organization.
“We’re all the same group,” Danielle Strong, president of the St. Louis Jaycees, said. “All of our projects coordinate with each other at some point.”
As the organization reaches the international level, Anderson says the focus of each group changes slightly, all while staying focused around JCI’s eight Millennium Development Goals – a set of long-term objectives adopted in 2004 which include combatting deadly diseases and world hunger.
“The mission and vision stay consistent throughout all of our local organizations,” Anderson said. “All of our members work to create sustainable impact in their communities, but the actual projects they conduct look different based on where they’re located and the needs of their community… young people in Europe focus on different ways to develop their communities than young people in Africa, because their community needs are different.
“Our members in Europe are very business-minded, especially as a solution to the needs in Europe today. They’re very focused on solving youth unemployment, and address that issue through promoting entrepreneurship.”
At the JCI world headquarters in Chesterfield, members bring local and international concerns together through hands-on activities and services.
One such activity is a poverty simulation. Participants get a crash course on the day-to-day life of a person in poverty by acting out specific roles.
“You could be a single parent raising three kids, or you could be a grandparent raising grandkids, you could be a senior citizen living alone,” Anderson said. “You get an identity, and based upon your situation you have to meet your basic needs on limited resources.”
JCI staffs the simulation with volunteers who have lived in poverty and can make the scenario realistic based on their own experiences. At the end of the simulation, the participants and volunteers go through a reflection period to discuss the experience.
Jeff Burgess, president of Commerce Brokerage Services, was given the role of a young child in a recent JCI poverty simulation. Dealing with limited recourses and challenges like money, transportation and even time was an eye-opening experience for Burgess, and he said he walked away from the simulation with a better appreciation for the challenges people with economic hardships face on a daily basis.
“The concept of limited resources was demonstrated very well through the simulation,” Burgess said. “I thought that JCI did a great job of putting on the simulation.”
Helping young professionals grow
Despite the organization’s long history, Strong said getting the word out about the Jaycees and recruiting new members can be a challenge.
Strong said that to help spread the word about the St. Louis Jaycees and JCI, her chapter has been investigating partnerships with businesses and local colleges.
Nora Amato, executive-director of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, said the efforts of JCI actually help local communities stay vibrant by retaining young, educated professionals.
“A lot of the time, people that are more educated end up getting their educations and leaving instead of going back to their areas and helping grow their own communities,” Amato said. But she noted that JCI enables those educated young professionals to engage with their local communities in ways that help them and their local communities to grow.
Celebrating 100 years of service
In July, JCI will hold a symposium on social equality and the search for human dignity in the 21st century.
The symposium has a two-fold objective: provide a forum for conversations about social inequality and how to tackle the problem, and provide an outlet for citizens across the region to take action.
“We’re at the forefront right now in headlines with this issue in Ferguson, and everyone is waiting to see what we’re going to do,” Anderson said. “So this really gives our community a springboard from which they can take action and address it.”
In addition to the symposium, JCI will celebrate its centennial with a number of other events throughout the area. A documentary being filmed about the organization will have a screening around JCI’s birthday in October. Following that will be a gala dinner. Other events are still being planned by local Jaycee chapters.
Also to commemorate its last 100 years, Anderson said JCI plans to construct a monument in Chesterfield that shares some of the history of the organization, and the vision its members have for the future.