By Jillian Risberg
If you help someone else, you always help yourself. That’s what the women of the GFWC Woman’s Club of Denville/Rockaway have lovingly devoted their lives to doing.
The General Federation of Women’s Clubs is an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others.
There are 80,000 members worldwide, with 8,000 New Jersey members in 200 women’s clubs statewide.
““We fall under the umbrella of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs (founded in 1894),” says Janice Blinder, co-president of the Denville Club. “NJSFWC is also part of the Highlands District, about 19 clubs in the Morris and Sussex area.”
The Denville Club started out as the Women’s Club of Denville, established in 1932.
“We are the oldest charitable organization in Denville,” Blinder says. “We preceded the Rotary and all these other clubs, the Kiwanis. And it’s often this silent movement. How many people in Denville go to the public library and don’t know that we started it.”
“The Back to School collection, wish trees — our name is there but it’s not to pat ourselves on the back; it’s to get the job done for those in need.”
When a member is sick, they appoint a sunshine or courtesy chair to keep club members informed.
“We send cards, call the person,” Co-President Blinder says. “We had one woman who got quite ill and some of our members were able to go over there, bring her lunch, take her to the doctor.”
She says they have certainly evolved over the years.
With so many women in the workforce — in order to include more women in the club their (former) president decided to hold day and night meetings.
About the same time, they went from having a club president to having two co-presidents, so that one could preside over day meetings and the other over night meetings, but the agenda remained the same.
“We try to keep our women engaged and interested by having them involved in many charitable Denville and Rockaway things and also by having speakers,” Blinder says.
Some previous speakers included a beekeeper, visiting nurse association, ovarian cancer expert.
“Twice a year I try to have a pot luck lunch and everybody really enjoys that,” says Co-President Blinder. “We each bring in a dish, have our general meeting, eat and socialize. So socialization is another big part — there are women who get together monthly for their birthdays, carpool to a Somerset Patriots baseball game, we have two women who started book groups.”
All the clubs within New Jersey get to vote on a project for two years.
“Our most recent one for last year and this year is CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and we have two women that chair that program within the group,” she says. “We support CASA both on a state level and also our local office, which is in Morristown.”
According to Blinder, it’s a very interesting organization. They are volunteers who assist children who are caught up in the legal system because their parents are incarcerated or have been separated from their families for some reason.
“We have had beach towel collections for them, we’ve done clothing drives for them,” she says. “Anything that CASA asks of us on a local or state level, we try to provide assistance.”
They’ve done NAMI, (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
“I’ve been a member of the women’s club for 15 years,” says Co-President Blinder, adding that she was a night meeting walk-in and received a warm reception from everyone.
Her passion for doing good and helping others in her own community is what keeps Blinder coming back year after year.
“So I’d say, most of the women who join are interested in helping those in their community (and beyond),” she says. “We’ve taken up collections when there was a hurricane in Florida, Puerto Rico, New Orleans and what we do is reach out to another club in that area rather than giving to a big thing like the Red Cross, because we work so hard for our money we like to know that the money is being spent wisely.”
Women are free to join any of the clubs.
“We have a couple of women from Boonton in our club, we have one woman from Summit and she got involved because one of her co-workers lived in Denville and has been a member for many years,” Blinder says.
The Parsippany Club is very active and the Denville Club gets together with them for certain programs.
“There’s definitely a fellowship among members not only in our own club but nationally,” says Co-President Blinder. “We’ve had some of our women go on vacation to Florida — they went to the clubhouse in Key West and were welcomed.”
A few other women stopped at the state location in New Brunswick, at Douglas College, on the campus of Rutgers.
“And we continue, all the clubs in New Jersey to send a certain amount of money every year to help pay the land lease at Douglas,” Blinder says.
When it comes to the women who join the GFWC, the co-president says the demographic has really changed.
“Because when you think back to 1932, women were not really in the workforce to any great extent,” she says. “There was also a junior women’s club and that kind of went by the wayside and became just the Women’s Club of Denville/Rockaway.”
According to Blinder, they don’t have many young members and she doesn’t like that maybe people think they are just senior citizens.
“I’d say half of our women are still in the workforce, half are not,” she says. “We would welcome younger people to get their ideas, to get their vitality but we don’t seem to be attracting those women anymore.”
Membership dues are $35 per person and because they are a charitable organization, most of the money they take in has to go back out, which it does.
“Fundraising is becoming harder because you see how many organizations are running pancake breakfasts that we used to do for Veterans Day,” says Co-President Blinder. “Same thing with Tricky Trays — how many times can you ask local stores to contribute.”
For that reason she says they don’t do it anymore because they’re not getting good attendance.
“We want to ask when there’s a real need,” Blinder says.
Some of their philanthropic interests include the Denville Senior Center flea market and Terri Lynn Gourmet Nuts.
“Terri Lynn gives us like 30 to 40 percent of the profit from the sale of these nuts and they are fabulous, I can tell you that,” says Co-President Blinder.
And they work with Scrip, a fundraising program that partners with more than 700 leading brands to help nonprofits raise millions of dollars using gift cards.
“Say if you went to Macy’s and bought a $50 gift card, when we buy it through Scrips — Macy’s gives us a certain percentage back,” Blinder says. “Maybe five percent one day, three percent another day and this is a part of our income.”
“We don’t ask for a lot of personal money, we just get women involved helping us earn money in some manner.” she says.
Their philanthropy extends to a few activities they always stick to every year depending on how much money they take in.
“We give three $50 gift cards to eighth grade graduates at the middle schools in Denville and Rockaway,” Blinder says. “We give $700 scholarships to two graduating seniors, from Morris Hills and Morris Knolls. We call that our service area.”
They also give out two scholarships to graduating LPN students at Morris County School of Technology.
“It feels good to stand in front of the graduates of the LPN program and congratulate them and say, ‘You’re adult learners, I personally was also one and I know how hard that is and I know the sacrifice that you made to advance your education,’” Blinder says.
She says raising money for scholarships is one of their top priorities besides national and state obligations since their club was built on literacy and advancing education.
More recently the club has been involved with the Memorial Society, they are the ones who put flags out at various cemeteries, including the Denville Cemetery for Memorial Day.
“Every family has somebody who’s been involved in a war and maybe lived or didn’t live but it certainly gives me a sense of history and a great feeling to honor these people,” Co-President Blinder says. “Maybe their family members will come by and say, ‘hey, somebody remembered.’”
At the end of the day, Blinder says she has never felt that she couldn’t call any of the women in the club and ask for their assistance.
“Every October I have tried to come up with a project for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I am able to get together with some of the women who can help,” she says. “We put something together for the breast cancer patients at Saint Clare’s Cancer Center.”
The Denville woman says that’s how she’s able to socialize, as well as engaging with the other women when she’s at day meetings.
“Many members have joined because they are friends of other members and we rarely lose people,” says Co-President Blinder. “We have about 50 members now. When I first joined maybe there were 15/20.”
Co-President Janet Walker can attest to that. The Boonton Township woman retired in 2015 and her dear friend Mary McAleer tried to assure her there were a lot of things to do in retirement.
“So she invited me to the women’s club and I found that it was such a welcoming, friendly group of people,” Walker says. “They were so enthusiastic about helping in the community that I was really very happy to be part of that organization.”
According to Walker, the women have all supported each other since day one.
“It’s like when you meet them, they are your best friend; your BFF,” she says.
Nowadays it’s all about stepping up and giving back.
“There’s talking about it and there’s doing it,” Blinder says. “The Women’s Club of Denville has always been doing it any way they can.”
McAleer had also been retired a few years and really wanted to do volunteer work when she read about the Denville/Rockaway Club.
“I decided it was perfect,” she says. “You don’t have to go hunting for that volunteer opportunity and I could make a difference.”
Walker says the club is making a difference one project at a time.
“The things that we do seem small when you look at them one at a time, but they affect people’s lives,” says the Boonton Township woman.
McAleer says she never felt out of place and knew the Denville Club was where she wanted to be.
According to Blinder, the talents of the women come out in so many ways.
“Maybe you have no interest in this, but you have an interest in that,” she says. “There is something for everyone and we are always welcoming new projects, new social ideas.”
And ladies are always welcome to come to a meeting.
“Whether you call me or Janet or nobody, like I did, just walk in off the street,” Blinder says.