Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties celebrates 90 years

Members of the Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties promote Discrete Dignity, a program that provides feminine hygiene products to those in need.

Members of the Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties promote Discrete Dignity, a program that provides feminine hygiene products to those in need.

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SCHENECTADY – As a literacy specialist at Schenectady’s Oneida Middle School, Ashley Ozemba is always looking for ways to better support her students.

“It’s important to use my voice in this community and speak up for my students and families,” Ozemba said.

One avenue she’s found to do that is through the Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary, though its longevity isn’t its only accomplishment.

The women-led organization promotes volunteerism and has helped to create other local non-profits including the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady, Family and Child Service of Schenectady, Inc. and provided assistance to many others.

It was formed more than 20 years after the first Junior League was founded in New York City by Mary Harriman Rumsey.

In its earlier years, the local group was called the Junior League of Schenectady, though even then its membership included people in Saratoga County as well.

“The formal mission is to train civic leaders, getting women more engaged in their community and that was true 90 years ago, as it is today,” said Denise Murphy McGraw, the League’s president and a longtime member.

Along with that, the group aims to provide networking and community-building opportunities, as well as service projects.

“They were really very good at that even 90 years ago, assessing needs, seeing how they could be helpful and do things and raising money toward doing these projects that really were very meaningful throughout the decades,” McGraw said.

She’s been a member for more than two decades and when she was growing up the Junior League stood out as one of few organizations that focused on women.

“There traditionally hasn’t always been a lot of women’s service organizations,” McGraw said. “I just was really interested in the concept of being able to get training on your community and do service projects and do more within the community certainly, while working with other women and getting to know other women and network.”

Over the years, the local Junior League has amassed a long list of projects, including establishing a school for handicapped children, which is now Clover Patch School and Clover Patch Camp; establishing Dominion House, the first pilot project in the state for the reintegration of people recovering from mental illness; and helping to establish the local Course Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which supports court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children.

Today, there are around 200 members, some considered new and active and others are sustaining members, from a mix of professional backgrounds, ranging from business owners to teachers to lobbyists.

“It’s nice to be able to meet a collection of women of all different ages and that we all come together for the purpose of bettering our community. That has been a true blessing to be able to share that with other women that are in their 80s compared to young women that I’m trying to bring into the League now,” Ozemba said.

When new members come on board, as Ozemba did five years ago, they take a course and receive training on assessing needs in the community. Following that, they organize a community service project. Ozemba’s project helped raise awareness about human trafficking in Schenectady.

The group meets regularly to work on community impact projects and for other training. That was difficult to do at the height of the pandemic. While members did meet over Zoom, the pandemic paused some of the group’s annual programs, including the Holidays House Tour, which remains its most popular event.

However, this year, the League has been able to regroup and recently worked on Operation: Back to School, which provides Schenectady High School students in the Smart Scholars Early College High School Program with school supplies based on what their teachers require.

Another initiative that’s top of mind this time of year is Discreet Dignity, which highlights the need for feminine hygiene products, which can be expensive and aren’t covered by government supplement programs. The group has collected and donated thousands of products to women’s shelters, food pantries and other organizations.

There are plans in the works to bring back the house tour next holiday season, from Dec. 1-2, 2023.

As the group celebrates its 90-year milestone, McGraw and Ozemba are focusing on making sure it stays relevant and attracts new members.

“[Ensuring] that people feel like women’s service organizations are something that fits into their lives, that if people only have two or three hours a month or five hours a month that they can possibly even think about volunteering in the community on top of everything else they have going on, making those as high impact as possible,” McGraw said.

That’s one of the things that Ozemba particularly appreciates about the Junior League.

“I think that sometimes people might be afraid to join organizations because of the commitment,” Ozemba said. “One of the best things about the League is that your commitment is what you can give to it. If you have the ability to [volunteer] for two hours on a Saturday, awesome, you can. But if you have a conflict and you can’t participate in anything for six months, that’s okay too.”

For more information on the Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties, visit

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