I?f you need something done and done well, you do it yourself, right? That may be true in some circumstances, but in the case of one Wellesley organization it should go something like this: If you need something done and done well, look to the Wellesley Service League. Anniversaries are milestones, and this year this important Wellesley organization is celebrating its 80th year of providing volunteer services to cultural, educational, and other charitable organizations that serve Wellesley and the surrounding communities
The Wellesley Service League is the town’s oldest local women’s service organization. Originally a branch of the Friendly Aid Association (now known as the Wellesley Friendly Aid Society), it early on concentrated its efforts on assisting Friendly Aid in several projects. The work of the two groups was, in fact, so intertwined that since its inception, the Service League’s Vice President also serves on the Board of Directors of Wellesley Friendly Aid Society. Although the League is no longer an official branch of the Wellesley Friendly Aid Society, it still participates in a variety of Friendly Aid projects.
Mrs. Isaac Sprague served as the League’s first president. An annual report from 1928 lists the League’s first-year accomplishments, in which we can guess Mrs. Sprague must have taken great pride. They include the following: members made 3,000 surgical dressings, provided transportation for Doctor’s Day at the Baby Clinic, and knitted and delivered 30 sweaters and 60 pairs of bed socks to patients at the Convalescent Home. Mrs. Sprague was assisted in these accomplishments by Mesdames Murray C. Harvey, Carroll S. Harvey, Newell Smith, Fordham B. Kimball, George N. Chamberlain, W. Elliott Pratt, Jr., George C. Noyes, Charles F. Eaton, and Walter J. Hurd. During the same year these ten women worked with the Friendly Aid Board and the local Boy Scouts to conduct the annual drive for Tubercular Christmas Seals; they also made contributions to the Friendly Aid for the Welfare Clinic and for an Emergency Fund to aid a family in need. These are quite impressive accomplishments for just one year’s work, but in typical Service League fashion these efforts were quietly appreciated with a renewed vow to expand the membership and to do even more! Within a year the membership had increased to 40, and service was expanded to fully encompass the league’s two enduring themes: Youth and Children, and Healthcare and the Elderly.
The Wellesley Service League continued to build on those two themes during their early years. During the 1930s, the League provided Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to low-income families, sponsored holiday parties and distributed toys for needy children, and ran a camp for children with tuberculosis. Beginning in 1947, League members gave support to Newton-Wellesley Hospital by volunteering for ward work, the preparation of provisions for the central supply room, and for general clerical services that were aimed at helping to keep the hospital running strong.
In the 1960s the League worked with special needs classes in the Wellesley Public Schools. In the latter part of the decade it expanded its healthcare services to include mentally challenged citizens and began to assist in the sheltered workshop and in art classes at Charles River Association for Retarded Citizens. This service continues today and has been recently expanded to include music therapy. Communities were served equally well by the League in the following decade.
In 1974 members began assisting with Friendly Aid’s Meals-on-Wheels Program. The next year, they became a part of Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s Friendly Hospital Program, which lent support to hospital staff by giving tours of the facility to Wellesley kindergarteners. Since then, League volunteers have expanded the scope of their participation to include visits to the Pediatric Emergency Room and the introduction of a germ prevention program that covers important public health issues like instruction in the proper way to wash hands.
The 1980s and 1990s were exciting decades as the League continued to grow and look for additional ways to better serve the community. By 1980, for example, deliveries for Meals-on-Wheels were being made on a regular basis.While working at Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s Women’s Thrift Shop, League volunteers proposed the idea for a Toy Shop to provide gently used toys for the December holidays. Toys are still collected, cleaned and repaired, and then sold at nominal prices in November every year to families in need. In 1983 the Wellesley Service League endorsed and supported the Children’s Place, a creative arts program for preschool-age children. The commitment of the Service League to this project resulted in a grant that allowed the Children’s Place arts program to become a Head Start Program in Wellesley.
Today the League can boast of approximately 75 members along with over 200 active sustainers. According to President Christy Cadigan, “Sustainers continue to meet as an organized group and maintain the friendships begun in the club.” Another important sustainer contribution this year is an active role in expanding the League’s involvement in the Wellesley Food Pantry. League volunteers, for example, deliver food (generously donated by Roche Bros.) to the pantry and assist with food distribution and even the delivery of food to those unable to come to the pantry for goods.
Other important services provided by today’s League include volunteering at the Barton Road after-school programs that provide meals and activities for the children on early-release days. League volunteers also re-shelve books at the Wellesley Free Library, which saves the town substantial funds, and provide transportation programs for both the Wellesley Senior Men’s Group and the Wellesley Women’s Friendship Circle. In celebration of the Wellesley Service League’s accomplishments and contributions to the community, members held an 80th Anniversary Fun-Raiser at Elm Bank in March. Proceeds from the event were used to benefit the Friendly Aid Camp Fund, which allowed 25 children to attend town day camp in summer 2007.
Despite reports of declining trends in volunteerism nationwide, the Wellesley Service League’s membership continues to grow with an active wait list, and with a corresponding increase in programs and funding. With an eye to the future, the League has consistently made efforts to adapt its services to the needs of the community. In the words of Vice-President Connie Main, “One of the beauties of this organization is if someone steps forward with a need, we do our best to assist if it is within our service abilities. We hope to continue to be a great support to our Wellesley neighbors in need, but also, to be able to react to the needs of the surrounding communities if we are able.”
Clearly the work of the Wellesley Service League has changed with the times. Christy Cadigan expresses excitement about the opportunity to review the League’s bylaws and books in order to keep projects current with the changing needs of the community. It seems true that as much as things change, some things remain the same. The words of Mrs. Isaac Sprague, the first president of the League, still resonate today. “Every member is keenly interested in her small share of the work, and we will always be ready either as individuals or as a group to extend a helping hand.” It is clear that this philosophy of dedication to community service, and to the genuine camaraderie and friendships developed along the way, has served to bring the League eight decades of success.
Connie Main recently came across the following quote by Rabindranath Tagore which she feels sums up not only the mission of Wellesley Service League as a whole, but of the members as individuals:
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service is joy.”