Strength in Numbers
By Anne Dalton, Chief Officer for Strategic Initiatives for the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.
The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc. (AJLI)’s Annual Conference is a three-day event that brings Junior League women together to celebrate, learn, network and govern – quite a lot to pack into a short space of time. It truly can be said that the Annual Conference has something for everyone and the 94th Annual Conference held in Atlanta on May 12-14 was no exception for the over 600 delegates from 291 Junior Leagues in 4 countries. This year’s theme “All In” was the perfect lens through which to understand the power of the Junior League.
Delegates chose from over 25 workshops that addressed topics such as “Leading an Organization”, which was led by some of Atlanta’s most accomplished nonprofit CEOs, “Facilitated Networking”, “Navigating Difficult Conversations”, “Sustaining Diversity & Inclusion to Realize Organizational Excellence” and “Rewarding Corporate Partnership” to name just a few. Each session was designed to provide Leagues and League members with ideas, strategies and approaches to support their work locally.
A significant highlight of the conference was a moving speech by Carlotta Walls LaNier who was the youngest of the 9 African-American children who desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. She spoke of her strong belief in the power of education that propelled her to want to go to Central. She highlighted the role her parents played in preparing her for a life of accomplishment. And she reminded everyone of the achievements we have made as a society as well as the work that lies ahead in our pursuit of justice for all.
Her speech was followed by an evening reception at the Center for Civil and Human Rights that afforded a unique setting for delegates to reflect on LaNier’s experiences and to deepen their understanding of and insight into the history of this country’s path to social justice.
In addition to numerous learning opportunities, the Annual Conference also was an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of individual Junior League members as well as the efforts of Junior Leagues in pursuit of AJLI’s commitment to being a network of women empowered to create community change. The Mary Harriman Community Leadership Award, the highest honor bestowed upon an individual Junior League member, and the Rising Star Award, which recognizes emerging leaders, serve to remind each Junior League member of the powerful impact of women as trained volunteers committed to improving their communities. Awards given to Junior Leagues recognize their best efforts in a wide range of areas like Vision, Leadership Development and Community Impact. For participants and recipients alike, the atmosphere was overflowing with cheers and applause for all winners.
The Annual Conference also includes the Annual Business Meeting of the Association. Delegates were provided in-depth updates on the achievements of AJLI over the past year and had the opportunity to talk together about the future of the Junior League as it heads into its second century of service and leadership.
Each activity – whether it’s a powerful workshop, a moving keynote speech or a dazzling award – is wonderful in its own right, however, it is difficult to characterize the Annual Conference as a sum of its parts. What transforms the three days is the energy of the women themselves. The Junior League balances the power of distinct and individual communities with the collective energy and focus of its members and its leaders bound together by a common mission. Being together for three days is an incredible opportunity for the leadership of all Junior Leagues to reenergize and reconnect and to be reminded in multiple ways of the power to lead and to change communities. It also is an extraordinary picture of the deep meaning of friendships across states, regional boundaries, and countries. Social media may have exploded the ways in which we can now stay connected, yet Annual Conference reminds us that there is nothing to take the place of actually being together in person. It truly can be said that the Junior League was ALL IN.