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Thought Leadership Guardians of Atlanta’s Future

Good Work Claims Well-Deserved Credit

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By: Susannah Balish, Sr Director at Cox Communications, past JLA president, board member, speaker

Introduction by Andrea N. Smith, President, The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc.

Speaker addresses the audience at the 2018 annual Women’s Leadership Forum.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I wanted to extend deep appreciation to The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) members who have made and continue to make a truly meaningful impact in the community. From our founding days 103 years ago, JLA members have led service-based missions including founding the Atlanta Speech School, Trees Atlanta and Atlanta Children’s Shelter and more. The lives it has transformed has resonated through the generations not only making a positive civic change but also advocating for legislative change. Though there are framed achievements on office shelves and the JLA headquarters building, the real credit goes to those JLA members on the ground enacting service-guided missions to create impactful change.  It is through our dedicated members that make our community stronger and more connected. Our past president, Susannah Balish, writes this month about how JLA membership has impacted the community through positive service. After the mission is completed, we don’t often bask in the credit due for the good work. Susannah makes the case why we should do that. I raise my hand and salute all those Junior League of Atlanta members who continue to do quality service for our community. Thank YOU each and every one for doing the good work and making our community a more positive place. 

JLA members interact in an activity at the annual Women’s Leadership Forum.

 “The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them.” – Benjamin Jowett, 19thc Oxford scholar

Ten years ago, I shared this quote to inspire The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) members to lean into our ambitious agenda of community service for the upcoming year. At the time, I agreed with this oft-quoted wisdom. 

Now, I believe differently.

When I was the JLA president people frequently stopped me to share enlightening examples of how JLA has transformed them and our community.  

Engaged JLA members learn at a civic leadership workshop.

You may, for example, know JLA founded the Atlanta Speech School, CHRIS 180 and Trees Atlanta. 

But did you also know JLA founded the Atlanta Preservation Center, Atlanta Youth Symphony (ASO), and Literacy Action?  I learned the JLA ran the Thyroid Clinic at Grady and produced award-winning thyroid research, propelling Atlanta to become a leader in this area alongside Duke and Vanderbilt.

Although awards for our transformative work over the last 103 years adorn our headquarters building, I had no idea JLA had received recognition from the White House, entertained a sitting First Lady of the United States and was featured on NBC Nightly News for our impactful leadership. 

I loved hearing personal testimonies from members about how JLA has inspired them to take action, including everything from running for office, starting a nonprofit, becoming an entrepreneur and even speaking at the UN. 

JLA members doing service work in the community.

Where would we be without this collective power of diverse JLA women, joining together to develop their potential, identify unmet needs in our community, and forge bold coalitions to improve our city and our citizens?

And where could we be if more people were aware and appreciative of JLA’s multifaceted impact? 

How many more women might have joined JLA? 

What additional challenges could we have tackled? 

JLA members doing service in community garden.

How many more programs could we have funded and expanded?

Many women I know feel it’s impolite, even bragging, to take credit for one’s ideas and achievements. 

In fact, many of us diminish our role with well-intentioned humility. We say, “it was nothing” because that’s what we were taught and we don’t know how to graciously claim credit in a way that feels “right”.

Yet each time we demur, we undervalue our contributions. 

And what an unfortunate disservice! 

JLA members doing service at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

These could have been moments we disrupted a stereotype, changed an obsolete perception, or opened people’s eyes to specific examples of how we’re making a difference.

How about you?

Have you bought into the belief it’s not important to get credit as long as the work gets done? 

At what cost? 

Are there potential members, sponsors, or supporters who are unaware of the good you are doing? Do people not recognize the value your organization or team is adding because no one is telling them? 

Are there negative stereotypes about your company? Incorrect perceptions about the necessity of your job or project? Inaccurate beliefs about your industry? 

If so, it’s not wrong to bring people’s attention to the value you’re adding, it’s right. And it’s time.

In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s agree to start sharing how we are positively impacting our employees, members, and communities.

I’ll kick it off. I’d like to give a well-deserved shout-out to JLA’s $1M Centennial Gift to the Community, which funded three transformative programs.  The three programs that received Centennial Grants were: Atlanta Community Food Bank, Generational Poverty Law Project (Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Georgia Heirs Property Law Center and Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta) and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Read more about the grants here.

But what made this gift so unique is that JLA provided every organization that wanted to apply for funding with intensive design-thinking and grant-writing training at no cost to them. All applicants were able to up-level their skills. This was an exciting catalyst and game-changing precedent that JLA created for the community. 

Would you like to personally experience the JLA and meet some of these leading-edge women? If so join us April 30 for our annual Women’s Leadership Forum. I invite you to join our Women Transforming Communities movement. I hope to see you there, and I hope you will start sharing your accomplishments and claiming credit for your contributions! Click here to find out how you can join JLA members to create community service impact and claim due credit too.

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