The Valdosta Junior Service League was founded March 3, 1936, at the Daniel Ashley Hotel by forty-five young Valdosta women who wanted to work for the betterment of their community. The League was incorporated in 1966.
Service projects carrying out this purpose during the early years included the Community Center (which provided instruction and activities for all age groups), a nursery school, assistance with welfare (which led to the procurement of a full-time welfare worker for Lowndes County), work with physically challenged children, and participation in World War II related projects at the U.S.O. and Moody Field. The League-operated Valdosta Teen Club (with a League paid supervisor-manager) opened in 1945 and paved the way for a Valdosta Youth Center in 1952.
Through the years, the League has been the initiator of other projects that would be turned over to others, once organized and in successful operation. These have included the Classes for Exceptional Children, the School for Trainable Children, the Speech and Hearing Clinic at Valdosta State University, the High Risk Register at South Georgia Medical Center, and most recently the Mendez Drug Program for the Valdosta Elementary School Children. The Classes for Exceptional Children had their beginning in 1951 in the League's small class for mentally challenged children held in the mornings at the Episcopal Church with members picking up the children, teaching them, and returning them home. This program was taken into the Valdosta City School System and branched into a full-scale school program for mentally challenged children of all ages. During this time, the League provided supplements, furnished supplies, and provided in-service training grants for teachers and coordinators. Members organized field trips and assisted teachers by serving as classroom aids and grade mothers. After one parent meeting held by one of our chairmen the Lowndes County Association for Retarded Children was formed. The school system has gradually assumed complete responsibility for this program. Seeing the need for a place for who were too mentally, physically or emotionally challenged to attend even the Exceptional Classes, the League opened the School for Trainable Children in January 1961. The League paid the rent, the teacher, and furnished all supplies. Members served as classroom helpers. This class was eventually absorbed in to the school system as well.
The League has instituted and passed on many other projects over the years. These include the Cancer Loan Closet (now completely affiliated with the Lowndes County Cancer Society), Brownie and Girl Scout Troops for mentally challenged girls, Story Hour at the public library, and the Remedial Reading Program at Valdosta Middle School. League members have also contributed many hours volunteering for the United Way, the Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy, the Heart Fund, and the Polio Fund.
Since the 1950s, the Valdosta Junior Service League has been recognized widely for its service in the area of hearing screening. In the spring of 1977, the League organized a new project known as the Health Fair to accomplish triple screening (hearing, vision and dental). Since January of 1979, the League has combined sight screening with the hearing screening program. The League's work in the field of hearing screening led to the establishment in 1963 of the Valdosta Speech and Hearing Clinic, which was funded solely by the League. Because of this new project, the city schools were able to have a speech therapy program for the first time.
In 1975, the Valdosta Junior Service League recognized the need for clinic expansion and joined with then Valdosta State College to pursue the goal. The Valdosta Speech and Hearing Clinic is now housed in the Education Center at now Valdosta State University and is still aided by the League according to Clinic needs in any given year. Today, the League screens all city, county and private school third and sixth grades and others upon referral by their teacher.
The League began screening newborn babies in January 1971, under a program called Neonatal Hearing Screening Program. This program evolved into the High Risk Register for Deafness in Infants. In 1984, the State of Georgia recognized the significance of the High Risk Register and implemented it throughout the state under the direction of area Health Departments. In the fall of 1979, two volunteer programs were started at the Valdosta Boy's Club. An after school tutoring program was started and the PEP Job Bank Program. The PEP program assisted young men and women in obtaining jobs in the Valdosta area. From1979 until 1985, the League was heavily involved in fundraising for the Boy's Club and YMCA to help finance building programs.
Ironically, on March 3, 1982, exactly forty-six years after the first meeting of the Valdosta Junior Service League, the League voted to purchase the Converse Dalton Ferrell House with the dual purpose of preserving this treasured landmark through historic preservation and creating a permanent home for the League itself. On July 5, 1983, the League was notified that the house was approved for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Initial restoration was completed in the fall of 1983.
On March 3, 1984, the forty-eighth anniversary of the Valdosta Junior Service League was commemorated with a luncheon honoring past Presidents. This occasion launched a two-year preparation period for the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration. In 1996 the League celebrated its sixtieth anniversary with a Diamond Gala. The Valdosta Junior Service League website, vjsl.org, was launched in September of 2000. In June of 2003, the League funded and lead the Valdosta Women's Build, part of the Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter Work Project.
Recent League projects include Southern Treasures cookbook, Koats for Kids, and the Learning Enhancement Grants program. The League funds two scholarship programs, The Cathy Hensley McDonald Scholarship Fund for a business education major at Valdosta State University awarded in memory of a valued League member and the Speech and Hearing Scholarship for a speech and hearing major at Valdosta State University. The League currently provides volunteer hours for C.P.I.E. Reading in Schools, Habitat for Humanity, Jacob's Ladder, Kid's Cafe, the Lowndes-Valdosta Arts Commission, the Salvation Army, and United Way's Day of Caring.
Over the years funds to finance League projects have come from the "Follies", League sponsored shows such as the FSU Opera, a Flea Market, a Christmas Bazaar, a Guide to Valdosta, an Engagement Calendar, the Paper Caper specialty shop, seven great cookbooks. Current funding is provided by the South Georgia Medical Center Spice of Life Cafe (which began operation in 1971 as the Coffee Corner) , the Annual League Benefit & Auction, Southern Treasures cookbook, the Jingle Bell Run/Walk, and the Christmas Spectacular Arts & Crafts Show which has been held annually for over 30 years.