Junior League of Hampton Roads: A legacy of giving back

2022-2023 Junior League Board, left to right: Angel Lungelow Cooper, membership ambassador; Alison Foley, VP special projects; Kimberly Gibbs, president-elect; Leighandra Shenk, VP community; Harper Bathel, president; Sarah Genevich, VP communications; Gwendolyn Meharg, past president; Autumn Epler, secretary; Claiborne Montgomery, VP finance; Amanda Barrett, VP membership.
A scene from a previous Tour of Trucks. This year’s event is scheduled for Sunday, April 23,11 am–3 pm at Langley Speedway.

Our mission statement best states who we are as the Junior League of Hampton Roads: An organization of women whose mission is to advance women’s leadership for meaningful community impact through volunteer action, collaboration and training. Our purpose is exclusively educational and charitable,’” says Harper Bathel, president. “Our service area includes Hampton, Smithfield, Newport News, Poquoson, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Isle of Wight and Gloucester. Any woman who is 21 years of age or older is invited to serve in our organization. We have active members whose ages range from mid 20s to 60s.” 

Junior League members Leighandra Shenk, left, and Marie Mendelsohn at the 2022 Jingle Jog at Billsburg Brewery.

The Hampton Roads Service League started in 1949 and became the Junior League of Hampton Roads (JLHR) in 1956 and has been making a difference in the community ever since. Joining the League entails being invited to a recruitment event, and once committed to the League, in their first year, the new members will volunteer at a community event, work at one fundraiser and attend training to build leadership skills. There are also two meetings a month, in addition to five hours of personal volunteer work with a cause the League supports. All 220 members, including Bathel and other leadership members, are volunteers. 

The primary goal of this group of volunteers is to positively impact the community it represents. “Each year, we partner with nonprofits to support and strengthen the work they do. Our impact areas this year are in family services and education. Our community partner for the year is LINK of Hampton Roads, the largest homeless support services provider on the Virginia Peninsula. Our Friends of the League are THRIVE Peninsula, Peake Childhood Center and Alternatives, Inc. These organizations have goals and missions very much aligned with those of our organization,” Bathel says. “Some of the most popular projects we have supported include assisting with the Virginia Living Museum. We raised funds for the museum’s touch tank that children and their families enjoy each day. We have volunteered at the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank with projects that focus on teaching about food, how to prepare it and aiding with reduction of hunger in our community.”

Members of Junior League take pride in the events they orchestrate, expressing their love of “giving back.” Bathel says, “We conduct two major fundraisers a year. This past mid-December, we hosted a 5K race called Jingle Jog, which was held in Williamsburg. In the spring, we will host our Tour of Trucks, a family-friendly event where everyone is invited to explore all kinds of vehicles, including area service, construction, rescue and race vehicles. Visitors may get in the vehicles, touch the equipment and talk with the operators. This year, our event is set for Sunday, April 23 from 11 am-3 pm at Langley Speedway.”

Bathel continues, “Throughout our League year, we are in conversation with our community partners and friends to find out how we can best support them. Our community council reviews their recommendations and develops projects from these initial conversations.”

Because of JLHR’s passion for community education, a Volunteer Scholarship was established. Each year the league distributes scholarship funds ranging from $500 to $3,300 to high school seniors who have applied and have demonstrated outstanding volunteer work in the community.

When asked what her favorite League event, is, Bathel couldn’t choose just one. “Honestly, I love everything we do throughout the year. Whether we are volunteering to raise funds for the projects we support, or coming together for a training and planning meeting, or a social event, it connects us,” the president says. “I love meeting women who are as excited to serve our community as I am. It is heartwarming to witness our members grow as leaders as we learn from each other and care for our community.”

Bathel’s role as League president takes approximately 12 to 15 hours a week conducting meetings, planning together, training together, raising funds and volunteering in the community. She puts her own heart and soul into the League just like every other member, in addition to having other engagements. “My fulltime job is serving as the director of children and youth ministry for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk,” she says. 

Even though she has a fulltime job and spends a lot of time volunteering, Bathel makes time for family. “I am a wife and mom of two. I have a three-year-old daughter and an infant son. We do a lot of family togetherness, including walks to explore our community and volunteer activities. I enjoy my time with our family and friends.” 

For more than 65 years, JLHR has been making a difference in the community with its passion for helping others and it will continue to serve the place it calls home. 

Junior League of Hampton Roads
Address: 729 Thimble Shoals Blvd., Ste. 4-D, Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Harper Bathel, president
Phone: 757-873-0281

About Noelle Riddle 42 Articles
Noelle Riddle is from Fairfax County, Virginia, and earned her degree in English with a double minor in both Leadership Studies and Communications Studies from Christopher Newport University. Growing up, it was always her dream to pursue a career that involved writing or creative expression. She is currently a full-time writer with US News. When Noelle is not writing, she enjoys walking her dog, playing volleyball or trying new and unique foods to review on her food blog.