When Jessica Dunleavy and her husband moved to Louisville from Pittsburgh in 2009, they didn’t know a soul in the area. Jessica eventually found a job as a first-grade teacher, and she enjoyed working with the children, but she really wanted adult friends. Her real estate agent suggested she look into joining the Junior League of Louisville (JLL), a non-profit organization of women promoting voluntarism and community involvement. Jessica joined JLL in 2010, and she has just as much enthusiasm for the group today as she did when she first became a member.
Not only is Jessica a wife, a full-time mom of three young children and a preschool teacher, but she now serves as JLL’s current president, a position she attained last year and will hold until 2021. The chapter recently moved into a new office space and she is beyond thrilled with this change. Let’s meet this week’s super volunteer, incredible leader, and our newest FACE of Louisville, Jessica Dunleavy.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Junior League, tell us more about the organization.
We’re part of the International Association of Junior Leagues, and we are the local chapter. The Junior League celebrated our 99th year as an organization. Our mission is to improve the community through effective civic leadership. The thing that is unique about Junior League is that each chapter governs itself. We all have a shared mission of wanting to improve our community through the effective action of trained volunteers, but we’re autonomous in the direction that we take to improve our community.
What has inspired you to stay with the Junior League of Louisville for so many years?
The women were, and still are, so welcoming to new members. They really empower each other. It’s really wonderful to be in the company of these successful, brilliant, inspiring women and just know that they have your back. When I went to a recruiting event to join, I didn’t know much about the Junior League, but I feel that we really embrace the fact that women are coming from different backgrounds and different situations.
How did you become president of this chapter?
Last summer, the president at the time, Emily Hart, unexpectedly moved to Dallas. I was serving as the executive vice president, and I was in my second year of that term when she had to vacate her position. The League has done so much for me that when it had a need, I had to step up. I applied for the position, and I am so honored that I was selected by our nominating committee to fill this role.
What has being president of this organization taught you?
What I’ve learned is that clear expectations, clear communication and good listening skills are the most important qualities that a leader can have.
What type of projects is the Junior League of Louisville involved with?
One area of impact is kindergarten readiness. About five years ago, we did some research and learned about the various issues Louisville was facing, and our membership voted to take on this project. We brought in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a program she created for children to receive free books from birth until age 5. We’ve also partnered with Metro United Way and the Little Free Library program.
We also just finished the research for our upcoming community focus, switching our concentration to youth homelessness and development. A passion our members have held onto is working with foster care youth. One of our goals is to start advocating for policy change, such as lowering the age of assistance for children aging out of foster care at 15. We are also looking towards working with local officials to develop more options for public transportation for homeless youth so they can find jobs or lower-income housing. We would also love to launch a host program where people who possibly have Airbnb’s over their garage would consider hosting someone experiencing youth homelessness until they get back on their feet.
Your chapter recently relocated to a new location. Tell us about your beautiful new office space.
We’re so proud of this new office. This is like my fourth baby. We recently moved to a suite in Distillery Commons. It’s an excellent location and super accessible from downtown and Highway 64. We have about 2,000 square feet that is exclusively ours. One of our past presidents is an architect, so she designed the space so we could use it to maximum efficiency. We have a training room where we can host up to 80 people, two smaller training rooms and a boardroom. This is just really exciting for us. We’ve created a home that reflects today’s League.
Switching gears, are there any local places where you and your family like to hang out?
We recently moved to the Highlands from Middletown, so we’re new to that area. We’re really just soaking it up, exploring Bardstown Road. Just being able to walk to different places is such a treat for us.
Do you have any favorite restaurants in town you like to visit?
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Do you have any hobbies?
I love to read, and my favorite place to get books is the Northeast Library.
What books would you recommend?
Where the Crawdads Sing really stuck with me for quite some time. One that’s a little off the beaten path called Circe, which is about the goddess Circe from Greek mythology. It’s written like a novel, so it’s really easy to read and makes mythology more accessible. I’m also reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
Where are some of your favorite travel destinations?
We love to go to Florida, and one of our favorite places is Captiva Island. It’s this tiny island where you’re so removed, and it’s so calming. We also like Charleston, South Carolina. The city has such a history, and there’s great food and great shopping.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you?
I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that I am married to my high school sweetheart.
What’s the best advice you’ve received, and from whom?
Many of the past Junior League presidents gave me this advice: “You can’t break the League in a year.” What they were getting at is that things aren’t always going to go as planned. If the League is resilient, then I can be resilient, too. I think that same thing can apply to other situations in life – where if I take this risk, maybe it will pay off, and if it doesn’t, then well, we can eventually move past it.
Besides faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Coffee, exercise and the Junior League
Thank you for chatting with us, Jessica. And thank you to Gretchen Bell Photography for the beautiful photos taken at the new Junior League office.
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