It began as nothing more than a casual conversation among friends. Five women – each in their 20s or 30s with young families and budding careers – were sitting around after a Bible study and talking about how much they loved living in Lake Highlands. Some of them grew up in our neighborhood and had returned to raise their own children, and they didn’t want to take their heritage for granted. They wanted to build on the foundation their parents – and in some cases grandparents – has laid for them.
But despite the wealth of neighborhood service clubs and improvement groups, nothing existed for their demographic. And so they formed their own organization, the Lake Highlands Junior Women’s League.
“We didn’t know if we were going to be planting flowers in medians or what. We had no idea how big we were going to become,” says founding member Sarah Graham. “It’s hilarious to look back now and think in the amount of time we’ve been established the amount of things we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Anyone who participates in the league’s upcoming Run the Highlands fundraiser can glance toward the Lake Highlands Recreation Center while running along White Rock Trail and see the makings of the women’s pet project – a sprayground opening this summer. The $450,000-plus mini waterpark is a pretty major undertaking for a group that has existed only a year and a half, especially considering that its original goal was simply beautification.
What the women didn’t want to do was reinvent the wheel. They wanted to find their niche in a neighborhood full of volunteers. Plus, careers and young children didn’t leave much time for huge projects.
“We’re so busy, and we wanted to be able to give back to Lake Highlands in a way that wouldn’t take away from another organization,” Graham says.
Some of them had mothers in the Lake Highlands Women’s League, so they approached them for advice and wound up with the women’s league offering to serve as the “parent” organization. The two groups have similar goals, explains junior league president Meredith Mosley, so the junior league fell easily under the women’s league umbrella.
“We said, ‘Yes, go with our blessing, and we will not tell you how to run it,’” says women’s league member Joan Walne. “I’m thrilled to even be working with these girls. Young women today are dynamic and capable. But it’s kind of a lonely time. You’re home with those babies, and you don’t know people – they need to have a reason to be here.”
The sprayground has become a focal point for the women to rally around. They charged into the 2005 fun run without knowing the sprayground was a possibility. But when the run was over, they were floored to find $12,000 on their hands. Their only question was how to spend it.
“You see these other surrounding cities that have these wonderful parks that you will see families out walking and playing at any time of the day. It’s all safe and nice looking and cleaned up, and we wanted that for Lake Highlands,” says Run the Highlands co-chair Julie Johnson.
With some help from Walne, who is an appointment to the Dallas Park and Recreation Board, the women discovered the city had plans for a new playground at the recreation center, as well as bond money waiting to be spent. They pressed the city to expedite the project and add a sprayground to its plans, agreeing to pony up money for some extras through Run the Highlands proceeds.
“It was just really the right place at the right time,” explains philanthropy co-chair Julie Peek. “Most of us, since we’re young moms, we’re so excited to think of an activity our kids can enjoy now and for years to come – and not having to drive far away from the community to enjoy it.”
Walne calls Lake Highlands a “unique pocket” of Dallas and says it has always been well kept by its residents. But the junior league came along and created some “flash and dash,” she says.
“It’s been a while since something new has come to Lake Highlands. Our parents and people in that age bracket right now, they did so much to build up the community 20 years ago or so, and it’s just been maintained,” Johnson says. “This is a new project coming our way, and I think people wanted to get their hands on it.”
The women’s goals for the recreation center don’t end with the sprayground. They want to eventually build a large pavilion and a walking trail that will sweep across the acreage. So many younger couples and families are moving into Lake Highlands and can benefit from these improvements, Graham says.
“It’s really a beautiful area, and it’s not being used to its full potential,” Johnson says.
The now 85-member junior league runs the gamut – some of the women have as many as four generations living in Lake Highlands, some married into our neighborhood, and some are new neighbors. And though their background helps them appreciate where they live, their drive to make it better is what unites them.
“It’s so funny that we could live in Plano or anywhere else – not that there’s anything wrong with that,” says Peek, whose father and mother are a former exchange club president and former council member, “but it speaks volumes of our community and the pride we have in the community to be here.”