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On September 2, 1939, Helen Lenard Pieklo and a group of her friends founded the Legion of Young Polish Women (Legion Młodych Polek). Their initial purpose was to help the people of Poland in their time of need. These visionary women and those whom they inspired to follow their lead for over 75 years – all volunteers, then and now – have collected and donated over one million dollars to many worthy causes.
During World War II, the Legion sent food and clothing to Polish prisoners of war, and 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 occupations of Poland by an Oppressive Communist regime created an even greater need. Assistance was given to the Polish Veterans in Italy, the Polish Mission in Argentina, the Polish Library in Paris, and the Sikorski Institute in London. Within Poland, the Legion continues a tradition of assistance, including Laski Institute for the Blind, the Catholic University of Lublin, and various senior and children’s homes. The Legion supported the Solidarity Movement proving financial aid for the purchase of food, clothing, and medicine. Its “Medical Supplies to Poland” Project provided over $88,000 in assistance to smaller Polish clinics.
The Legion helps ensure that Polish culture, heritage, and traditions remain an integral part of our ethnically diverse country. The Legion helped to establish the professorship of Polish Language and Literature as the University of Chicago in 1961. In recent years, it supported the Loyola University Chicago Polish Studies Program. The Legion supports the Polish Museum of America and the Lira Ensemble. It has given support to the film makes or documentaries about Polish involvement in World War II, “Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers” and “The Officer’s Wife” as well as to the concert in memory of Pope John Paul II and activities of the Paderewski Symphony Orchestra (PaSO).
For many years, the Legion has supported the young people of the Polish American community through substantial donations to the Polish Scouting Organization (Harcerstwo), Polish Language schools and dance groups, and to scholarship funds of the Chicago Intercollegiate Council, the Knights of Dabrowski “Crusade for Education” and the Council of Educators in Polonia. The needs of new immigrants from Poland are addressed through assistance to the Polish American Association and the Polish American Congress Charitable Foundation.
The Legion’s concerns reach out beyond its ethnic scope, as evidenced by donations to the Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly, the Providence Soup Kitchen at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Special Olympics, and the Salvation Army.
With the money it raises, the Legion supports Polish and American cultural and educational projects and thus the heritage of its members.
Our Past Projects
Over the 80 years of its existence, the Legion has funded over $1,500,000.00 of charitable and cultural projects in Chicago, the United States, Poland, and everywhere in the world where there has been a need to aid Poles and promote Polish culture. Over the years, educational and related institutions and activities have been the main recipients of the Legion’s largesse. Universities, colleges and schools here and in Poland have received almost $250,000. The Legion established the Chair of Polish Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, which now is the Maria Kuncewicz Endowment. Donations to various scholarship founds here and abroad totaled over $220,000; publications and scholarly conferences received almost $100,000, with a similar amount given for promotions of various Polish cultural events with Milwaukee and Chicago metropolitan area museums and various exhibitions receiving about $120,000. The Polish American Congress charitable endeavors received over $80,000 and the Copernicus Foundation received over $60,000. The Polish American Immigration and Relief Committee received over $50,000, and various Chicago area Polish Language Saturday Schools received funding as well.
Through the 1980s, the Legion purchased, packed and sent basic medical supplies directly to a few small hospitals and clinics in Poland that were being bypassed by large institutional donors from abroad.
The Legion continues to support the Pope John Paul II Foundation, the Polish Youth Association of Illinois (Harcerstwo), the Ronald McDonald House at Comer Children’s Hospital, the Home Army/AK Foundation and to the Polish American Association (formerly The Polish Welfare Association). The Legion has made contributions to the American Cancer Society, Project Hope, the Arthritis Foundation, the Leukemia Society of America, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, WTTW Channel 11 Broadcasting, Tsunami and Hurricane relief efforts, military family’s relief, and various Chicago community funds.
The work of the Legion cannot be done without the effort and dedication of its members, who volunteer their time and expertise. Sending food and clothing to Polish prisoners of war (POWS) during the World War II required not only fund raising skills, but, also, the ability to research what was needed and where it should be sent. Similar skills were required 50 years later in the Medical Supplies for Poland Project. The annual White and Red Ball, the Legion’s main fundraiser, involves over 50 volunteers working for six months at various jobs that range from writing and proofreading copy, stuffing envelopes and evaluating contracts. All skills are utilized in the work of the Legion.
Our members have various educational and life-experience backgrounds but share a love for Polish culture and traditions.
Some previous major projects include: continuing major monetary support to the Maria Kuncewicz Endowment Fund at the University of Chicago, formerly the Chair of Polish Language and Literature, established by the Legion in 1961; continuing major donations to The Polish Museum of America in Chicago, Polish-American scholarship funds, donations the South Asian Tsunami Relief and Hurricane Katrina Relief, the Illinois Military Families Benefit Fund, donations to support documentaries on Polish WW II hero Irena Sendler as well as the Katyn Forest Massacre, support of Women’s Services at the Polish American Association, donations to the “Cure Autism Now” Walk-a-thon and support for exhibits of Polish art at both the Art Institute of Chicago and the Milwaukee Art Museum.