The Legion of Young Polish Women
80 years of Philanthropy
On September 2, 1939, the day after Nazi's invasion of Poland, Helen Lenard-Pieklo and a group of young ladies founded the Legion of Young Polish Women. A mere one month later this organization had collected over $2,500 and enlisted over 350 members.
Today, the members from the earliest years of this organization are no longer with us, but by their exemplary dedication and sacrifice, they have earned the deep respect of all those who have joined the Legion, and indeed of the entire Polish American community. They, and those whom they have inspired to follow their lead, have collected and donated over one million dollars to various worthy causes.
During World War II, the Legion sent food and clothing to Polish prisoners of war, and to widows and orphans in Poland. Help was also rendered to the Polish Army hospital in Great Britain in the form of medical equipment, hospital beds, and ambulances. The end of the war and the occupation of Poland by an oppressive Communist regime created an even greater need. Millions of Poles, unable to return to their homeland, settled all over the world. The Legion assisted in supporting the Polish Veterans in Italy, the Polish Mission in Argentina, the Polish Museum in Rappersville, Switzerland, the Polish Library in Paris, and the Sikorski Institute in London.
In the years that followed, the Legion was a constant source of support to countless worthy organizations and causes in Poland, among them the Laski Institute for the Blind and the Catholic University of Lublin. As the first glimmers of hope for a brighter future shown in Poland, the Legion supported the Solidarity movement by providing financial aid for the purchase of food, clothing and medicine. These donations, in their own way, aided in the Historic struggle that eventually accomplished that which was thought to be impossible... the collapse of both communism and the Soviet Union. Help for Poland continues to this day.
The Legion has also set out to ensure that Polish culture; heritage and traditions remain an integral part of our ethnically diverse country. It has helped to establish the Chair of Polish Literature at the University of Chicago, and supports such organizations as the Polish Arts Club, the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences, the Polish Museum of America, the Kosciuszko Foundation, the Copernicus Foundation, the Polish Resistance (AK) Foundation as well as numerous other publications, libraries and foundations throughout the community.
The Legion has for decades supported the young people of the Polish American community, recognizing that they will be the ones to carry on our legacy in the years to come. The Legion has made substantial donations to the Polish Youth Association (Harcerstwo), Polish language schools and the scholarship funds of the Chicago Intercollegiate Council and the Knights of Dabrowski. The needs of new immigrants from Poland are addressed through significant support of organizations such as the Polish American Association and other relief groups.
The Legion's concerns reach out beyond its own ethnic scope, as evidenced by such donations as those to the American Cancer Society, Project Hope, the Leukemia Society of America, Ronald McDonald House, the Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation and various community funds.
All Legion members are volunteers, donating their time and efforts to the causes in which they strongly believe. Their dedication and service to the community keeps our old customs alive, which is very important duty because it preserves our ethnic identity. Every June the Legion members organize the St. Johns Festival - "Swietojanki" and in February present the White and Red Ball, with its elegance and lovely traditions. All of it, of course would not be possible without the generous help of our debutantes and their families, and our friends and the businesses in the community.
One of the greatest contributions the Legion has made, however, cannot be measured by dollars and is indeed seldom mentioned. By its ongoing tradition of philanthropic service, it has prepared numerous women for active participation in organizational and social activities. The organization that Helen Lenard-Pieklo and her friends founded on that joyless yet noble September day in 1939 has since attained a magnificent record of service and sacrifice and is poised and ready to continue its important charitable work.