New Orleans is synonymous with culture and couture, Cajun and Creole, Mardi Gras and music, food and fun.
On Saturday, the Junior League of Tucson will transform the Old Pueblo into the French Quarter and let the good times roll with NOLA Nights, a “vibrant and classy New Orleans-style street party” in the courtyard at St. Philip’s Plaza.
“The idea is not so much Mardi Gras as big brass bands and fabulous food and good times. I think it will be very successful,” said Meredith Lipscomb, president of the Junior League of Tucson.
The evening will mark the inaugural JL Legacy fundraising event, superseding the nonprofit organization’s annual rummage sale, which began in 1962.
“It was not only a fundraiser but a service for the community that provided cheap, quality second-hand goods for people, and for many years it was good for us and everyone else,” Lipscomb said.
“Now we have eBay and Craigslist and thrift stores on every corner and secondhand has become king. We are an all-volunteer group and are not thrift store experts ... so we created the JL Legacy event with the idea of having a different theme every year.”
The Southern-themed evening will bring the magic of the French Quarter to life with music and New Orleans-style street performances, said Erika Bartz, co-chair of the event with Alexandra Selby.
Guests will be able to enjoy tastings of Southern cocktails and cuisine created by 20 local restaurants, other eateries and vendors participating in a culinary competition.
Judges for the double-blind tasting include celebrity guests Adam Lehrman of Tucson Foodie and Matt Russell of On the Menu Live.
Bartz credits Lehrman with helping bring NOLA Nights to fruition.
“We wanted to come up with a theme that no one has really done here in Tucson ... and Adam was the one that helped us bring the vision of a New Orleans-themed event to light,” she said.
The event also seeks to raise the profile of the Junior League of Tucson, which has been serving the community for 82 years.
It is the local chapter of the Association of Junior Leagues International, a worldwide network headquartered in New York. Founded more than 100 years ago, the nonprofit’s mission is to train women in volunteerism, empower members with leadership skills, help identify unmet community needs, create effective partnerships and work for positive change.
The organization teaches skills including fundraising and organizational development. It engages the community in long- and short-term projects in areas ranging from literacy, mentoring and health to after-school programs for youth and helping seniors maintain their independence through JLT CARES — Creating Appropriate Residences for Every Senior.
Members also have helped establish resources such as the Ronald McDonald House, St. Luke’s Home, Brewster Home and the Fort Lowell Restoration project.
The Junior League chapter here is in the midst of a two-year community-needs assessment to determine how its services and funding will be best used going forward.
“We help with service and volunteer projects all over town that can be done in a day, whether Habitat for Humanity needs people to come build a house or an organization needs help with a run,” Lipscomb said.
Their efforts add up: “We have completed 600 hours of community service this year,” Lipscomb said.
NOLA Nights will cap off the efforts, seeking to provide a fun and affordable evening while raising $20,000.
“I think it is the best deal in town. Tickets are $35, which includes food and two drink tickets for beer and wine as well as samples of signature cocktails ... it will definitely be a good time,” Lipscomb said.
The event will also serve as an avenue for outreach about the Junior League itself.
“The concept of Junior League being for younger women is an archaic idea. That is something of the past ... we provide an opportunity for different generations to mix and mingle and learn from each other,” Lipscomb said.
“We train each other on everything from managing a budget to creating a meeting agenda and running a nonprofit. We take pride in the fact that we are a safe place to come and learn and try to new things. Women can come and feel free to make mistakes and learn from them; that is the best possible way to learn.”