A league of their own

Junior League of Honolulu members celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary: (front, from left) sustainer and past president Caroline Faringer; president Aileen Chen Brennan; communications vice president Jennifer Wenzel; treasurer Tanya Ahina; (back) sustainer and past board member Unyong Nakata; and sustainers and past presidents Martha Balkin and Nancy Pace, MD. (Photo by Lawrence Tabudlo)

Every month in the greater Honolulu area, a group of women meet to discuss how best to help their community. They learn firsthand from guest lecturers what local organizations need. Or, they use the time to assemble kits filled with clothes, toiletries and snacks for the nearby homeless shelter. Each meeting further empowers them to become agents of social change — and they invite like-minded women of all ages and walks of life to join the cause.

Community service and leadership are two sides of the same coin — and Junior League of Honolulu addresses both.

“We advance women’s leadership for meaningful community impact through volunteer action, collaboration and training,” explains president Aileen Chen Brennan. “That really is what we’re all about.”

The organization, which has been true to that mission for the past 100 years, celebrated its centennial during a luncheon last month.

“We have such a rich history in that 100 years,” adds Brennan, an online and mobile banking product manager for Central Pacific Bank.

Past projects have included everything from collecting school supplies and backpacks for Helping Hands Hawai‘i to packing boxes for Hawai‘i Foodbank and hosting an “Adulting 101” event for at-risk youth in RYSE.

“We’ve done things with Honolulu Theatre for Youth, Hale Kipa and Ho‘ōla Nā Pua, and it’s cool to see these organizations still around and knowing we had a small part in helping them,” shares Brennan.

For sustainer and past president Nancy Pace, MD, favorite projects include Action Line, a public complaints line that started in collaboration with KHON2 News, as well as the development of what would become Hawai‘i Nature Center in the 1980s. Then, in the 1990s, she helped Junior League of Honolulu start Hey Coach (in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse Hawai‘i), which instilled positive coaching techniques in coaches, parents, teachers and community groups.

“The Junior League changed the trajectory of my life,” Pace says. “It gave me the tools to effectively work with local and international organizations to move them toward their mission.”

A group of Junior League of Honolulu members volunteer at ‘Iolani Palace. (Photo courtesy Junior league of Honolulu)

A group of Junior League of Honolulu members volunteer at ‘Iolani Palace. (Photo courtesy Junior league of Honolulu)

Most notable, though, is the league’s part in restoring ‘Iolani Palace in the 1960s — in total, members put in some 5,000 volunteer hours. It’s something Brennan, Pace and sustainer Alice Guild all mention as a flagship project.

“The Junior League, I believe, is responsible for galvanizing and maintaining through the years the stimulus for ‘Iolani Palace, and I think they should be very proud of that,” shares Guild, who’s been with the organization for 65-plus years.

As a sustainer member, Guild benefitted from career-related training as Junior League of Honolulu’s first working president. She notes that times have changed, but that’s not a bad thing. Historically, the league was comprised of young women who stayed at home while their husbands worked. Over the years, that changed and many members now work full time.

“I don’t think I would have had the career I did if it weren’t for the league,” notes Guild, who has also served on boards for Friends of ‘Iolani Palace, Central Pacific Bank, La Pietra, Child & Family Service, Aloha United Way and more, and was general manager of Ala Moana Center in the mid 1980s. “It was fun, and I think that’s important. There’s so much out there to be discovered where you can have self-fulfillment, giving to the community, and still have a wonderful time doing it while making new friends and broadening your own life.”

While much of the volunteer work undertaken by Junior League of Honolulu members is boots on the ground and out in the field, there’s also work being done behind the scenes.

“We’re really big on training because we want our women members to become eventual leaders in the community,” Brennan says. “We want them to feel like they can sit on nonprofit boards or take leaderships positions within community organizations.”

Some of that includes helping women improve their self-confidence and composure. They also learn parliamentarian guidelines on how to run effective board meetings; best practices for strategic planning, grant writing and public speaking; and procedures for successful fundraising campaigns and project research.

“The Junior League empowered and trained me to take on large projects, including their development, how to fund them and implement them, and finally project evaluation,” notes Pace. “These projects have been both in our community and internationally.”

Pedagogy is also part of the Junior League training, including a session in which each member learned to identify her own personality type and recognize the personality types of others.

“You can learn to work better with all kinds of personalities, and that applies to leading an organization, as well as personal,” explains Brennan.

Junior League of Honolulu helps collect food for Kaukau 4 Keiki. (Photo courtesy Junior League of Honolulu)

Currently, Junior League of Honolulu has about 20 active members — and 150 sustainer members — and is open to more women joining its ranks.

“The challenge is continuing to change and adapt to the current environment and continue to make sure we are having events that are engaging our members,” explains Brennan. “Being a mom of two young kids, I’ve brought them to some of our volunteer events. I feel like it’s important for us to instill that desire to help others less fortunate and recognize and be grateful for what you have.”

Junior League of Honolulu is one of the few organizations founded by women for women that touches lives on so many levels. By helping women grow professionally and personally, Junior League of Honolulu is able to make a lasting impact on the community.

“The rewards are tremendous,” says Guild. “I think the greatest reward are the friendships you might never have otherwise made because you’re meeting like-minded women. The women I came into the league with 67 years ago are still my dear friends.”

Junior League of Honolulu hosts two open houses this month for women interested in learning more about the organization: 7-8 p.m. Nov. 8 via Zoom and 2-4 p.m. Nov. 11 in person. RSVP to, and email for more information.