By Guest Blogger – Pat Wilkins, Junior League of Raleigh President
Although the Junior League is more than 80 years old, I feel connected to the women who started the original association, which has grown into 293 Leagues across North America and in Great Britain. We are an organization of women motivated to make a difference in our communities and in the lives of the people who live there. We believe that women in our community have great potential to make positive changes and make lasting impressions, which is why we have worked for decades to train women as strong and respected leaders.
Why Focus On Women As Leaders?
As a women’s organization, we have an outstanding opportunity to equip the next generation of women leaders. The women with whom we work are passionate about service and their communities, and they want to show their colleagues and families what kind of influence community involvement can have. What we have discovered in the past century is that with many women’s unique skill sets, combined to accomplish common goals, can make a much greater difference than many people could working individually. Unfortunately, we have a shortage of women leaders in areas varying from business to nonprofit organizations, which is something we feel strongly about changing. As we work with talented and capable women, it is clear that they do not simply want to be a member of a community, but want to make it better.
Leaders Versus Volunteers
Volunteering, including the much-appreciated giving of time and service, is essential to the success of organizations and community groups. Many people, however, do good works within their community and world without the needed training to make a lasting impact for years to come. When volunteerism is combined with solid leadership training, the result is unmatched. We have been able to create a model that has made a significant impact on League operations, in addition to being an effective guide for other organizations to follow. Our system is simple and yet sets the Junior League apart from other organizations – we train our volunteers as leaders. League members are trained and equipped with the skills and knowledge that will help them take initiative to drive positive change wherever they work and serve. Once they have received training within the League, our members share their knowledge with organizations and other volunteers with whom they work. We have seen firsthand the difference it makes when a person with expertise and the proper training is the one to establish new community centers or mentoring programs. They have the confidence to identify and solve problems, as well as to take the necessary steps to make a new program successful.
Strong Leaders’ Positive Impact On Their Community
These women can take the training they receive in the League and go out into the community as advocates and leaders in many different areas, focusing on places where they see unmet needs or on causes that are of personal significance. In the past, we have had women open advocacy centers, start foundations, fundraise, run their own boards and coordinate countless volunteer efforts. When there is a need in the community, we are committed to recognizing and remedying it.
One of my favorite examples is the SAFEchild child-abuse prevention and intervention organization that the Junior League of Raleigh established in 1992. There was an unmet need in Raleigh to protect children from abusive situations, and the League sent members to staff the newly created organization as it began serving the community. We continue to serve and support SAFEchild, but this outstanding group now stands strongly on its own, effectively serving our area’s children. This is a classic example of the way our members equip others with the leadership skills necessary for an organization to thrive.
Our members are busy – 90 percent work outside of the home, and 50 percent work outside the home and have children – but their commitment to the local community and the League is the driving force behind their desire to give such dedicated service. The success of our organization is the direct result of effective leadership training, whether it’s learning to lead a fundraising team such as our successful A Shopping SPREE!, a community team such as SAFEchild or an in-League team that handles the League’s public relations or publishing our magazine. We are proud to be able to capitalize on the opportunities that exist to equip women with the tools they need to succeed.