Little Black Dress Initiative

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The Junior League of Lynchburg’s Little Black Dress Initiative: From Fashion Statement to Mission Statement

The “little black dress” is more than a piece of women’s clothing; it is an iconic symbol of sophistication that is considered a staple for every woman’s wardrobe. That said, thanks to the Junior League of Lynchburg (JLL), this symbol of style now represents something much more important: hope for every woman who faces distress in our community.

The JLL is an organization of women who work together to serve the community by serving as trained volunteers, by promoting women’s leadership and voluntarism, and by developing the potential of women. The JLL was founded in 1926 and formally joined the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. in 1929. The JLL’s first contribution to the community was the opening of the Preschool and Birth Clinic in the 1920s, which is known today as the Free Clinic of Central Virginia.

Over the past 90 years, the JLL has helped establish several additional organizations that enrich, uplift, and provide care to Lynchburg and its surrounding communities; among them are The Adult Day Care Center, Amazement Square, CASA of Central Virginia, Kids’ Haven, Lynchburg Sheltered Industries, Genesis House, and Riverside Park Sprayground. The JLL’s focus is exclusively educational and charitable.

In addition to partnering with other organizations to serve the community, the JLL plans events, supports initiatives, and raises grant money for projects that affect women, children, health, arts and preservation, and the environment. The latest JLL focus is the Little Black Dress Initiative: Faces of Distress (LBDI).

The campaign aims to bring awareness to women facing distress, whether it be poverty, violence, or inequality. The LBDI will focus especially on violence against women.

“Every three years, the JLL votes on a community project partnership,” says JLL President Amanda Denny. “After conducting research during the 2014-2015 year, the JLL found a huge need to educate the local Lynchburg community about violence against women. We wanted to share the statistics that women face daily in our own back yard in the hope that others would find value in helping us change those statistics.”

JLL member Jessica Watts spearheaded the LBDI, which originated in the Junior League of London and has become the focus of many Leagues worldwide. Watts has seen the distress local women face often throughout her six years as a JLL member. “I have largely been exposed to the distress and injustices facing our women through our volunteer work,” she says. “I have seen poverty firsthand and the effects that violent situations have had on the women and their families.

We volunteer at a number of organizations (Miriam’s House, Daily Bread, YWCA, to name a few) that aim to address these issues. And, knowing that these issues are still at the forefront in the community is why we have created the Little Black Dress Initiative. Unfortunately, the statistics facing women in our community are not improving fast enough. We want people to know the extent that women are in distress in the Lynchburg area so that changes can be made.”

The statistics and effects of domestic violence are sobering. The YWCA states that domestic violence includes physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse, as well as the threat of such abuse between people in a close relationship. It strikes one family in the U.S. every nine seconds, and it tends to pass from one generation to the next through socialization. Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to become abusers or battered adults, and half of these children are abused themselves. Watts adds that domestic and other forms of violence affect women from all backgrounds: “It is important for people to understand that these injustices do not occur in just one demographic. They are expansive and include dating violence in high schools and colleges, sexual assault affecting all ages, and domestic violence across all socioeconomic levels. They also include inequality in the job market and sexual harassment.

Future LBDI campaigns will continue to expand awareness on these issues.”
The LBDI encourages people to raise awareness by wearing a black dress or other black attire for five consecutive days and donate or fundraise for the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Prevention Center and Sexual Assault Response Program. The campaign is largely driven by social media including the use of #LittleBlackDressJLL. The JLL promoted the campaign in the community October 10-14 and raised approximately $6,000, surpassing their $5,000 goal.

Both Denny and Watts hope that the LBDI will have a lasting impact on the community and help as many women as possible address and cope with the various forms of distress they face. “One goal is to create a grant fund specifically to support organizations that focus on women and to help bring awareness to the injustices that they face,” Denny says. “LBDI is a community-wide campaign, not just League specific,” says Watts. “We would love to see anyone passionate about the cause taking up the initiative. This is how we will see our greatest success, when the entire community becomes invested. We want LBDI to be a known JLL mission so that people are aware of the great work League members are doing in Lynchburg.

Our biggest goals in the JLL are to connect, serve, and lead.”

For more information about the Junior League of Lynchburg and the Little Black Dress Initiative, please visit www.jrleaguelynchburg.org.


By Emily Hedrick
Photos by Caitlin Gibson

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