Crystal Ball looks to help people struggling
By Susan DeMar Lafferty firstname.lastname@example.org October 4, 2013 8:52PM
Looking over a scrapbook chronicling the 50 year history of the Suburban Service League are members (left to right) Anne Walker, Mary Salisbury-Lizen, Dottie Bauer and Gisela Sabal. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 7, 2013 6:48AM
When you look inside their Crystal Ball the future is a bit brighter for those who are struggling in the Southland.
It shows a group of dedicated volunteers dancing and raising money for more than 40 organizations, from Alicia’s House to Y-Me.
The women of the South Suburban League have raised more than $2 million in 50 years and given it all away. Their annual Crystal Ball is their only fundraiser, and this year they will celebrate their golden anniversary on Nov. 2 at the historic Olympia Fields Country Club.
“We’re the best kept secret, but we don’t want to be,” president and Frankfort resident Anne Walker said. “We need to get our name out there so we can continue to give to as many as we can.”
Today’s members don’t recall how or why the League was formed, but they do know there remains a tremendous financial need in the south suburbs.
It began with 13 members and they have tripled that number today.
It was never meant to be a large organization, with its bylaws now limiting the league to 55.
“As time has evolved, so have we,” said Dottie Bauer, of Crete, a league member for 36 years.
Their evolution is revealed in scrapbooks filled with photos, newspaper clippings and memorabilia.
Originally known as the Service League Auxiliary, it began as an auxiliary to the Flossmoor Service League, which provided financial support to the Illinois Association for the Cripppled. The inaugural tea was held March 17, 1963, at the home of its president, Jackie Pipher.
Many members then belonged to the Flossmoor Country Club, Bauer said.
Throughout the years, they tried various methods of raising funds — rummage sales, fashion shows, house walks, spring golf outings and fall concerts. But they have been steadfast in their mission: raising money for charitable causes specifically in the south suburbs.
Their all-volunteer efforts are now focused on one event each year — the Crystal Ball, a night of dinner, dancing, silent and live auctions, which allows them to give away tens of thousands of dollars to a long list of local agencies and individuals.
They fund Christmas parties at Aunt Martha’s Youth Services, provide scholarships to women, pay a bill for a struggling family and stock the shelves of many food pantries.
The list of recipients is extensive — Crisis Center for South Suburbia, Good Shepherd Center, Ingalls Infant Screening, Meals on Wheels, My Joyful Heart, Shady Oaks Camp, South Suburban Family Shelter and Together We Cope, to name but a few.
Many individuals also write letters seeking help with bills. All recipients are investigated to ensure their legitimacy, Walker said.
Gisela Sabal, of Frankfort, was invited to attend a League meeting with a friend back in 2002.
“They read a letter from someone seeking help, and I left crying,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be part of this. There are not a lot of organizations that take care of the south side. The needs here are horrific.”
Bauer also learned about the successful efforts of these women through a friend at Olympia Fields Country Club and attended a fundraiser.
“I could see the good that was being done,” she said.
Treasurer Ilene LeRose, of Frankfort, said that between 1998 and 2012, SSL gave away $1.2 million, an average of $80,000 each year.
Since the Suburban Service League is a nonprofit operated by volunteers, every cent they bring in goes back into the south suburban community, Walker said.
“We have a solid relationship with many of our agencies, or members will bring forth a new organization. We are always on the look out for new causes,” she said, emphasizing the importance of having a successful Crystal Ball.
Planning this annual event is a year-round effort, lining up sponsors and auction items, and making connections, members said.
“It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Sabal said. “We have a good relationship with our organizations. They know we are there for them.”
In addition to money, the women also invest a lot of “sweat equity” into a variety of causes, Walker said, as they unload boxes of food at Respond Now, work at the Food Depository, organize Christmas parties at Aunt Martha’s Youth Services, and buy food, clothing and school supplies out of their own pockets as the need arises.
And while it feels good to be doing good work in their own community, they also clearly enjoy each other’s friendship.
“Not everyone was friends before joining, but you make so many friends in this group. It’s a nice way to connect with people who have a common mission,” LeRose said.
“It makes your heart smile,” Bauer said.
The Crystal Ball will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Olympia Fields Country Club, 2800 Country Club Drive. Tickets are $175 per person and sponsorships are available.
More information is at www.suburbanserviceleague.org.