Metro-East Living

Junior Service Club makes Valentine celebration special

Club president Erika Barkhaus was ready to party.

She carried a purple plastic basket filled with homemade heart-shaped cookies, cupcakes, candy, a tablecloth trimmed with hearts, bingo cards and more. Amy Lester walked alongside, hauling a case of bottled water.

Erika and Amy and 10 more members of the Junior Service Club of St. Clair County were on a mission to host a Valentine’s party for folks at S.A.V.E.’s rural Belleville site. S.A.V.E. (St. Clair Vocational Enterprises) provides life skills and vocational training to people with developmental and other types of disabilities.

Erika and Amy headed for Building 301, where about 25 men and women had finished their work for the day and were sitting at long tables waiting for the fun to begin.

“Who wants to play a game?” said dark-haired Erika, holding a bunch of red plastic cups. “Raise your hand. What you have to do with these cups is stack them up.”

One by one, the men and women took turns making pyramids.

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” Erika said as a woman in a blue jacket got the job done. “There you go. One left. This is pretty high. Who’s going to go next?”

Some had their own cautious stacking style. Others stacked with wild abandon, drawing cheers when cups toppled over. No matter, each player chose a prize.

“You are doing good,” said Erika, clapping. “You have got it.” Then, “You are next. What is your name?” and “Oh my gosh, that’s awesome. Who knew stacking cups could be so much fun.”

Fun for players and organizers.

On Friday afternoons, Erika is usually at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch, where she’s director of revenue management.

“I’ve been with them 25 years,” said Erika, 47, who lives in Shiloh with husband Scott. “I left work early today, which is nice to do. So many places support giving back and want us to do these things.”

The Junior Service Club holds four to five events a year to raise funds to distribute to the community.

“We do trivia nights, plant sales, 5K runs, golf tournaments, and our largest event is a Christmas luncheon, Holly Day,” said Erika.

This year, they’re trying something new, a “Frozen” sing-along March 7 and 8 at Belleville East’s Performing Arts Center.

“We’ll play the movie,” said Amy, a long-time club member and former president, “and you can sing along with it. We will have the characters there ... We give away money at the end of year. Last year, we gave $55,000 to local agencies in St. Clair County.”

Recipients include such organizations as Family Hospice, Senior Services Plus, Minds Eye and Belleville Area Humane Society.

Each of the 80 active members also volunteers 50 hours a year. They may bake cookies for a party or help out on the St. Vincent de Paul mobile kitchen bus in East St. Louis.

“As president, my job to make sure everybody else is doing theirs,” said Erika. “I answer a lot of questions. I try to help where I can. If we’re short a person, I step in. If we don’t have a person to make cookies, I will do that.”

To join the group, you must be 22 or older and recommended by a current member. Erika joined in 2007.

“My husband’s boss’s wife was involved and invited me,” she said. “I had a friend who told me about it. It’s a great way to have structure with community service things to do.”

Erika didn’t have to campaign to be president. She just submitted her name to the eight-member nominating committee.

Emily Vosse, who serves on the club’s board of directors, said Erika has a passion for what she does.

“She’s a leader who demonstrates by example and inspires people to be their best while always encouraging them,” said Emily. “She’s a mentor to many and admired and respected by the women of JSC.”

At the party, Erika and Amy moved quickly from one Valentine game to the next.

Vocational trainer Denise Huffman watched from behind her desk.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “The clients look so forward to them coming. You can see them laughing, having a good time.”

Across the room, Erika announced the next game, Valentine bingo.

“That’s their favorite,” said Denise. “Everyone knows their numbers.”

The Junior Service Club women had divided themselves among several buildings at the rural Belleville site, also known as Turkey Hill.

“All the buildings have a party,” said Denise. “No. 301 here folds boxes for Roho. They do 2,000 boxes a day. We do peach boxes for Eckert’s. We do a lot of things out of this building. They are very hard workers. They worked all morning.”

Erika continued to call bingo numbers.

“How about Lucky 13? Is anybody getting close?”

After the party, club members backed up and headed to their cars.

“I really enjoy being with my friends, and coming out here doing something like this,” said Erika, “bringing a few smiles to people’s faces.”