A Force to be Reckoned with in Savannah and Beyond
by: Leandrea Mikell
If you live in Savannah, there’s a good chance that you have either heard of the Jaycees, you know at least one Jaycee (current or former) or you have been impacted by a Jaycees project. I’m guessing its all three for most. If not, let me fill you in, and hopefully, your answer will be different by the end of this post.
First things first… let’s talk about who the Jaycees are beyond the Hostess City. The United States Junior Chamber, also known as the Jaycees, JCs or JCI USA, is an international leadership training and civic organization for people between the ages of 21(18 in some chapters) and 40. Chapters across the globe are involved in business, government and community development projects.
The Savannah chapter was chartered in 1942, and our mission is to inspire Leadership Development through Community Involvement. The Savannah Jaycees have been a force in the community in everything from government relations to working to preserve the environment.
Many of our alumni are recognized for their contributions to our community, and we have the fortune of having such a strong foundation and the honor of continuing the legacy.
Among the Savannah Jaycees’ most notable projects were the installation of voting booths throughout Chatham County, eliminating the need for voters to travel to a central location to cast their ballots, spearheading efforts to build an auditorium in Savannah, which is now the Savannah Civic Center, raising funds to build the Kicklighter School and Chatham Nursing Home, founding Toys-for-Tots with the Marines and the fire department, renovating the Forsyth Fountain, creating Jaycees Park on Tybee Island and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years that have gone towards numerous community service projects and organizations.
In addition, in the 1950s, the Savannah Jaycees were a driving force behind the manager-council form of government we have in the City of Savannah today.
More recently, our group has partnered with organizations like Easter Seals to host a “Horses and Hula Hoops” fair for children with special needs and their families, America’s Second Harvest Food Bank, the exchange Club, the Salvation Army and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia. In 2019, our group was voted chapter of the year at the Georgia state convention.
As 2020 has completely dismantled our events calendars, projects look a lot different this year. At the start of the pandemic, we “adopted” 2 senior nursing facilities, collecting 100 bingo prizes and cards for the residents, and we hosted a school supply drive for local students. We have transformed our “Leadership Now” series to “Community Conversations” where we’ve discussed topics ranging from race relations to our region’s state of health.
The Jaycees were originally established to provide opportunities for young professionals to develop personal leadership skills through service to others. Since then, the Jaycees have been a force for good around the world. Over the years, the Jaycees have raised millions of dollars for causes such as the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, global climate change and catastrophe relief efforts. Chapters have built parks, playgrounds, hospitals, ball fields, and housing for the elderly while conducting service and support programs in thousands of communities nationwide.
Like many organizations, the Jaycees have seen highs and lows, but the one constant is our passion for the community.
2020 is a challenge, to say the least. In the age of social distancing, we realize how much we really need each other. As the realities of social and racial injustices are recognized, we are listening, learning and growing together. While our work is just getting started, our collective vision and direction is towards progress with intention. I have the honor of leading this amazing group where each person shows up with an open mind and an open heart.
We have had the opportunity to think more creatively and to be more innovative. We are finding ways to stay engaged and do our best to adapt and make a positive impact while staying true to our core mission.
Regarding the questions at the start of this post, I’ll quote the Notorious B.I.G… “if you don’t know, now you know.”
I’ll end with a line from our creed, which we recite at the conclusion of every meeting… Service to Humanity is the Best Work of Life!
I look forward to meeting you, Leandrea Mikell