“It’s awesome!” exclaimed Kate Anderson, board member of the Junior League of Portland, surveying the crowded ballroom at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel as the 6th annual Freeze Out Hunger gala got into full swing.

“We have changed the face of Portland. It’s women who do everything … lawyers, doctors, teachers and stay-at-home moms, giving back and changing Cumberland County. Just look at them. They have tons of energy and they look fantastic in their dresses!”

It’s true. One quick glance at the sea of party-goers suggested a roomful of dynamic, accomplished women getting things done. Jackie Real, a Babson graduate from Boston who recently moved to Maine to start her own fashion line, is a potential new member of the Junior League. She struck up a conversation with Susan Guimond, a past member of the Junior League and administrative coordinator for the nonprofit WinterKids.

Katie Clark, senior research manager at Diversified Communications and vice president of public relations for the Junior League (and one of five Google Glass wearers in Maine), joined her husband Darren in stopping to listen to Kim Block of WGME-TV welcome the crowd and make her own observation, “Let’s face it, there are a lot of great women in this room!” as she introduced Sandy Couch-Kelly, the Junior League’s president.

“We do make outstanding community leaders,” Couch-Kelly agreed as she took the stage to thank sponsors and the Greater Portland community for rallying around the Junior League.

Victoria Hartig, marketing manager at the University of New England and a new member of the Junior League, joined Belle Bocal, Web specialist on the PR committee, and Lesley Clunie, chair of the annual event committee, who donned dramatic masks in keeping with the masquerade theme.

“We’re pleased and stunned at the generosity of our community,” said Laura Seay, an assistant professor at Colby College and member of the annual event committee, commenting on the abundance of silent auction items donated to help the Junior League raise money for its programs. “We provide trained volunteers to go out into the community and support organizations that are doing good works. This year we are focusing on food insecurity.”

The Junior League has spent the last six years working with the Good Shepherd Food Bank to address hunger in Maine, most notably helping to launch the BackPack Program in 2010, which provides children in need with food to eat over weekends and school vacations when they might otherwise have none.

“The Junior League partners with organizations and incubates them,” said Clunie. “Part of our volunteer model is to ask what the community needs and then go from there. A lot of people don’t know that we helped to start the Children’s Museum of Maine, Kids First and the Center for Grieving Children. That’s the power of the League. We are able to partner and provide this incredible resource.”

“This is our big fundraiser of the year,” said Beth Peterson, vice president of community for the Junior League, who was joined by Elizabeth Franco, a member of the community committee. “It allows us to raise funds to put toward our mission, which is to build the potential of women through voluntarism, and training women to be leaders in the community.”

Shikha Vasaiwala, a media specialist for the Junior League, was joined by her husband, Dr. Samip Vasaiwala, a cardiologist at Maine Medical Center.

“We are completely new to Maine,” said Shikha. “I’m from New York City and my husband is from Chicago, and because of the Junior League, I feel like we can call Portland home.”

Her husband agreed. “My story with the Junior League is very straightforward. I did my training in Boston and my mentor’s wife enlightened me,” he said. “I’ve gained a lot and I am very lucky. Through my wife and the Junior League, I am able to give back to the community.”

For more information on the Junior League of Portland, please visit www.jlpmaine.org

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

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