Almost as soon as I was slated to be President, every Past President I spoke with told me – you will plan and plan. Then the year just happens! I feel as though they didn’t know how right they were. As most of you know – but probably do not fully think about – a JLGL President knows that they will be President for about 6 months longer than they actually fill the position. 18 months of planning and then 12 months of action. So, like everyone else, I had all sorts of plans and goals and ideas of how to make my year as President as successful as I could possibly achieve. Then, as the saying goes, “I plan and God laughs.” A little over two months before I was to step in, the world shut down.
Suddenly, women were working from home, teaching their children through apps and computer screens. There was no way to plan, so we could only prepare. The incoming Board met every other week to get ready for what would be a much different year. We were determined to make the best of the cards we were dealt. By the middle of the Summer, I pretty much accepted that I would be fulfilling a large chunk of my Presidency on Zoom, right from my bed.
What changed and how did we succeed? Throughout the year, many would ask, “What are we doing? Is this year just a waste?” I am very proud to say that, no, it was anything but.
First, we looked inward. What could we do to make our organization stronger? As women, we spend so much of our time focusing on others and this gave us a chance to focus on ourselves. We instituted virtual trainings, which allowed us to host a wide variety of subjects and create a database for our members to access at any time. We also held socials, both virtually and socially distant, staying connected through a time when many of us were feeling lonely.
We created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion taskforce, led by Katherine Fitzwater, where we could intentionally make our League a welcoming place to any woman who wants to do good in our community. We believe this is an integral part of our mission and that our League can only benefit from this continued work.
By the first GMM in September, a lot of us had seen more of each other throughout the summer than ever, all because of the virtual existence of which the world was now operating. However, as tired of Zoom as we all have become, it had its benefits. We had RECORD NUMBERS at our General Membership Meetings. And, we all lowered the barriers that we tend to put up. Rather than meeting in our beautiful building, made up with our game faces on, we were seeing into each other’s real lives. Mothers cooking their family’s dinner, giving their babies baths. We saw women going from work to their child’s soccer games. We got cozy and talked about how we were really doing. This year got real, in the best ways possible.
We also were able to take the time to take a deep dive into the documents that provide the framework for our League operations. I am ecstatic to say that we now have a 5-year Strategic Plan, ready to guide us with measurable markers of success. We also overhauled our Bylaws, Policies, and Procedures, which were approved by our Membership!
Once we started understanding how our League would operate under the pandemic, we were able to re-evaluate how we could serve our Community. I am supremely proud of our Community Council for the way they adjusted their thinking and acted outside of the box. Taking just a moment to peruse the Community section of this report, it’s easy to see that we may have been stealth in our virtual mode, but we more than got the job done.
Most affected by this year were our fundraisers, however, between a dedicated focus on grants and partnerships, as well as virtual fundraising, we exceeded our own expectations for the fundraising year! Light Up Lakeland for Literacy spread the word of our literacy efforts and got local businesses involved with a fun scavenger hunt. Little Black Dress Initiative harvested our greatest asset, our members, to take to social media, raising funds and awareness of our clothing efforts. And, finally, we ended the year with Let’s Wine About It, a fun play on our traditional Wall of Wine at ProAm.
So, clearly, we accomplished a TON in the Year of the Pandemic. We have proven that women truly are superheroes, constantly pushing forward to make it happen. And, I can say with full confidence that THIS group of women that make up the Junior League of Greater Lakeland are the best.
Thank you to all our Sustainers – every single one of you has laid the groundwork for the successful League we are today. Thank you to our Board of Directors and Chairs for sticking through this unusual year.
This is an experience that I will NEVER forget. I thank you all for your trust and your support, especially in a year where we never knew what was coming next. No matter where your path in the Junior League of Greater Lakeland leads you, I truly pray that it’s as breathtaking as mine has been.