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Back Online and DoMorefor24 Giving Campaign

DoMore24After cleaning up from the hack attack and really ensuring things were scrubbed down, I took a bit of a digital break from everything — blogging, Facebook, etc. But nothing is more wonderful to come back online for like a community-giving campaign, so I’m pleased to jump online to be a part of the United Way of the Nation Capital Area’s DoMorefor24 community giving campaign.

Here’s the idea, as a community, we can pitch in and “Give Where We Live.” One 24-hour blitz of community giving to organizations who make a difference right here. I love it! When I was asked if I’d like to help by hosting a donation site, that part was a no-brainer.

The United Way of the Nation’s Capital Area  has offered to match dollar-for-dollar the first $500 we raise together through this special Caffeine and a Prayer link between now and the end of June 6. There are hundreds of non-profits involved, including at least three that I personally volunteer for, and I was starting to feel a bit torn — was I diluting efforts by not throwing my promotional efforts behind just one? The United Way graciously is allowing funds donated via this site to go to the 501(c)3 non-profit women’s volunteer organization of the Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), of which I am a member and past president. This means the proceeds will be used toward their mission, and since JLNV members volunteer with Shelter House and the Children’s Science Center, two other organizations participating in the campaign, I felt like this was the best way for me to stretch contribution dollars — as it is a way to give “hands and dollar.” I love the JLNV because they train women to be skilled volunteers and leaders in our community, help other non-profits, and have more than 50 years of proven experience in Northern Virginia of pinpointing the needs of our citizens and then finding the resources and solutions to address those needs.

How can you participate in the campaign?

 

 

 

 

Spontaneous “Discovery” and the Red Pajamas

There was a time when my husband found my spontaneity endearing. Enticing. Sexy, even. Now, it is more often met with an eyeroll and a look that says, “Really, I’m in the middle of eating my dinner here.”

No, I’m not talking about that.

I mean when I looked at him and said, “Hey, two of my friends have arrived at Dulles airport in the past couple of hours and said they saw Discovery on the tarmac. Let’s hop in the car right now and see if we can find a place where we can see it!”

Commence pained look from JavaDad.

Okay, I understand his perspective — he’s tired, he’s almost done eating dinner, it’s raining. He doesn’t like rapid change. It wasn’t previously discussed.

This is my perspective: Ohmygodohmygodohmygod….IcangetMOREpicturesoftheshuttle…..itwouldbesoCOOLto
seeitontheTARMAC!!!  RememberwatchingplanesarrivewhenWEwerekids????
THE KIDS WILL LOVE IT!

See my point?

We were losing daylight fast, there was no time for debate. It was either hop in the car in the next five minutes, or the opportunity was lost. Forever. There would be no do-overs.

I offered him an out — something like, “You can stay here if you want, but I’m taking the kids and we’re going!” With a chirpy voice and a slight frown on my face. Simultaneously being supportive of the fact that he can be a stick-in-the-mud while subtly reminding him that it was this unique brand of craziness that he claims to have fallen in love with way before he had a driver’s license.

Did I mention I was in my pajamas? My bright red pajamas with hearts on them and phrases like “Be Mine” and “KissKissKiss” all across the legs. Not 20 minutes earlier my sinus infection was making me miserable and uncharacteristically ready to snuggle under a blanket and call it a night. Usually I am up until well past midnight, but tonight, I was toast. Thus, the pajamas.

I told the kids to throw on some jackets, grab their shoes and get in the car. I threw on a red fleece and figured that I’d throw caution to the wind and just go in my PJs. After all, we were just going to pull over on the side of the road in the rain — who would ever know I was in my PJs?

We’ve never watched planes at Dulles (IAD) from the road before. We’ve certainly done it from the observation tower at Udvar-Hazy, so I guess we never had a reason to do so from the road. We were surprised not to find a true observation point like most airports have. But we found a narrow shoulder and indeed, saw Discovery, still strapped to the jet. Space Shuttle Discovery parked on the IAD Tarmac

JavaGirl was unhappy with her vantage point from the backseat on the passenger’s side, so she and JavaDad finally decided to get out of the car and JavaBoy joined them, which prompted me to hop out so I could get a photo of them.

Just then, a minivan pulled behind us and the driver enthusiastically waved at us.

Oh no, surely I am not standing here, on the side of the road in my bright red pajamas and someone who knows me has pulled up?!

Oh yes, not only that, but my friend K. from the Junior League. Now I’ll admit that shamefully, I often show up at school pickup in my “schlumpy mom” look — no makeup, shorts, flip-flops, ponytail or my hair looking a bit flyaway. I shouldn’t, but on those days when the most exciting thing I’m doing is laundry, the grocery store, or writing, I often focus on getting the tasks done in the window between the first and last rings of the school bell more than my appearance, but when it came to my time at the League, I tried to at least pull it together and appear decent most of the time. And I certainly don’t appear in public in my pajamas even on my worst days!

Fortunately, K. had a big laugh over it. In fact, she said some other friends of hers was debating coming but were worried because their kids were in pajamas and moments later, said friends called on the phone to get directions to our vantage point.

They showed up, pulling up in their minivan, parking in front of us. Why not, let’s have a party! Everyone there, you know, with me, in my bright red pajamas… They weren’t even my CUTE pajamas. Or my satin ones. I have special pajamas for when I travel to conventions and have to share a room with female friends and want to appear somewhat presentable. Nooo, couldn’t have been THOSE pajamas.

So K.’s friends were polite but I think were slightly suspicious of this grown woman in red pajamas with hearts. (They are Valentine’s Day pajamas, for goodness’ sakes, they weren’t even the appropriate season! Note to self: Buy some Space Shuttle pajamas.) I tried to redeem myself by sharing our binoculars with them. We swapped space shuttle sighting stories while my children became inexplicably ill-behaved in my SUV. And then when we all decided it was time to pack it all in, K. went to her minivan to find her battery dead.

JavaDad once again shot me a slightly pained look. The Iwasjusttryingtoeatmydinnerwhathavochaveyouwroughtnow look. As we were now wedged between K.’s minivan and her friends’ minivan, we needed to pull out, do a highly illegal but unavoidable three-point turn on the one-way highway exit, and position our SUV so it would face her minivan so we the cables would reach in order to jump K.’s battery. Then, both JavaDad and the husband from the other couple bravely admitted to each other they didn’t remember exactly how to jump a battery and wisely allowed me to look up the instructions in my car’s manual despite the fact that I know this violates the very highest law of The Man Code.

So there I was, in the rain, off Highway 28, reading from page 325 of the Toyota Highlander manual how to jump a battery to two men who were half-listening to me. Gesturing wildly for emphasis in an attempt to get their full attention. In my red pajamas. While my kids acted like wild banshees in the backseat.

Her car started, the men disconnected the jumper cables without blowing up anything or harming anyone, JavaDad once again successfully executed another illegal three-point turn, and we were on our way home.

“That was COOL!” JavaBoy exclaimed.

JavaDad grinned slightly. I think he just may remember why he married me after all.

 

Proud To Be a Junior Leaguer

AJLI glowstickTweeting from the Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI) 89th Annual Conference in Philadelphia brought two very important worlds colliding together.  My decade-long affiliation with a 110-year-old women’s volunteer organization, and my passionate immersion in the tech world including a circle of blogging friends whom I see more often online than in person, and yet feel almost a spiritual kinship to.

The Leaguers are starting to tweet, but aren’t obsessive about it like my blogging friends, and my tweeting friends are mostly not Leaguers, so tweeting about things like the parade of delegates seemed as bizarre as if I were trying to describe the Mad Hatter’s tea party in 140 characters or less.  And yet, because AJLI has made such a concerted effort to move into social media (even writing for the Huffington Post) and because I am a blogger, I felt it was my duty to take great advantage of that hash tag #jlac11to tweet about the conference — both to get the Leaguers tweeting and the tweeters to get an insider’s view of a Junior League Annual Conference.

I have spent the past year serving as President of my local Junior League, the year before that as President-Elect, and several years before that in various leadership positions in the League.  When I tell people that, I get a range of reactions from, “What’s the Junior League?” to “Oh, I’m too old to join the League” or “Where are your pearls and twinset?”  (It’s okay, I get similar reactions to “I’m a blogger.”  They don’t ask about pearls though.)

What better place to dispel some myths than on my blog?

What is the Junior League?

The short answer is that we are a women’s service organization — we are volunteers who make a difference in our local communities — 292 communities in four countries.  The long answer is that we were founded in New York City by a debutante with a social conscience named Mary Harriman.   She mobilized 80 of her friends (thus the name “Junior”) to work to improve child health, nutrition and literacy among immigrants living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Her work inspired her friend Eleanor Roosevelt who joined the Junior League and taught calisthenics and dancing to young girls at the College Settlement House.  Every League has the same mission:  Promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action of trained volunteers.  However, each League may choose its own community focus area, for example: homelessness, literacy, child health, childhood obesity, women’s issues and so on.  The Junior League of Northern Virginia focuses on preparing children in Northern Virginia for success — mentally, emotionally and physically.

Who may join?

Junior Leagues reach out to women of all races, religions and national origins who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to voluntarism.  Each League may set its own specific membership requirements, but many have done away with “sponsorship” requirements.  Many also have done away with a maximum age limit (i.e. there is no such thing as “too old”) although many require that you be a minimum age of 21 to apply.  The Junior League of Northern Virginia has no sponsorship requirement, a minimum age of 21, no maximum age requirement.  Because the two largest pools of volunteers are Baby Boomers and Millennials, we are actually seeing many mothers and daughters joining the League together!  (And no,  you do not have to wear pearls or twinsets, many Leagues dress very casually!)

People always ask me questions about whether League members are married or single, with kids or not, working or not, etc.  Take a look at these demographics.   Yeah, those numbers would make any advertiser, sponsor, or advocacy group drool and yet they often forget to look at this incredible resource of women! 

What do Junior Leagues do?

This is the part that makes me most proud.  We all have a limited number of volunteer hours to give and so many organizations asking for them — why give them to the Junior League?  I have spent a decade volunteering with the Junior League and I have received so much from my experience.  One of the very first benefits I received was that I joined the Junior League of Palo Alto Mid-Peninsula (California) and within six months found myself moving to Virginia.  Because we are an international organization, I was able to transfer my membership and had an instant community to help me settle into my new hometown.  What makes me most proud of the Junior League is that for over a century, as an organization, we have been at the forefront of identifying community need and creating a solution.  Time and time again, you see Junior Leagues identify the needs of our society long before other organizations do and swiftly put a plan in place – whether it is addressing the needs of immigrants, milk stations and birth control clinics in the Depression Era, war time efforts during World War II, or even childhood obesity through the Kids in the Kitchen initiative before it became popular to do so.  I tell prospective new members, “When you become a Junior League member, you not only become a member of an individual chapter, you become a part of this Junior League movement, and you help write the next chapter.”  Junior Leagues have built zoos, museums, homeless shelters, libraries and schools.  They have spoken on Capitol Hill as well as in front of state and local lawmakers.  They have advocated for change and have helped create or change laws.  They have raised millions and millions of dollars in their communities.  Junior Leaguers become local civic leaders and often local, state and sometimes national leaders.  Every Junior League committee is a training opportunity for members.  Most Leagues have leadership training series, some are open to the public.  Dollars raised and given to the community are enhanced by volunteer hours provided.  Members are given numerous opportunities to enhance leadership skills inside and outside of the League.  In my own League, I’ve watched women who weren’t being given certain opportunities in their workplace (i.e. to learn social media, to work on PR skills) spending their “spare” time developing those skills inside the League and then launching entirely new careers. 

So when I’m asked if an organization like the Junior League is still relevant today, when so many women, including the majority of our own members are in the workforce, I answer, “You bet!”

It may seem odd to hear about some of our antiquated traditions from the conference — lining up in a parade to represent each League in the order that we joined AJLI and then cracking open a glow stick to help light up the darkened room to demonstrate the spread of the Junior League movement.  Yes, it felt odd, tweeting it.  But sometimes, there is something to be said for traditions that have been around a while.  I’m pretty sure if Mary Harriman were alive today, she would’ve approved of the glow of the glow sticks, the tweeting cell phones, and the faces of the 800+ proud delegates representing their Leagues.

A Tale of Two Volunteers

Volunteering is the theme of this month’s Yahoo! Mother Board (yes, I’ve joined something else!) and I have to chuckle as I read the posts of the other bloggers because some of them talk about super-volunteers and some talk about slacker moms and I can say that I fall squarely into both categories, depending on which segment of my “world” you talk to.

As previously posted, I am the incoming President of the local Junior League. I commit many, many hours to this organization and part of their mission is to promote voluntarism (small nit, you can say voluntarism or volunteerism, there is a very minor difference not worth quibbling over in this post). I serve on another community board and serve my community in other ways. However, there are other groups which ask for my volunteer time and which I used to be more involved in and which I don’t. Yes, part of it is a matter of time — a girl can only be in so many places at once. But part of it has to do with volunteer appreciation.

I’m not talking about luncheons or awards or certificates or anything like that. In fact, I personally don’t like those things much, though I know some people find those types of recognition extremely gratifying.  I’m talking about actually appreciating the skills and time I have to give.  A particular organization I used to give not a lot of time to, but at least some, simply failed to see any value in my organizational, technical or communication skills.  My tendency to turn to the Web to solve problems was apparently against their organizational culture.  From time to time they’d throw me a bone and let me do a computer-related task, but mostly they did not want to learn anything new and they didn’t want me to ever suggest anything new.  My skills and experience were of no interest to them, they wanted to do things the same way they’d always done it and I either needed to get with the program or get out.  When I made one last suggestion to try to solve a problem and was greeted with, “Not everyone is like you and wants to use the Web,” I realized what my answer was.  It was time for me to get out.  Get out of the way.  I’m the “slacker mom” because I don’t volunteer there any more, but I don’t volunteer because I don’t find it enjoyable.  Every time I try to just show up and do shift work (vowing to “shut up and show up”), I’m reminded just how much of an outcast I am in that organization and I come home wishing I had spent my time elsewhere.  Life is too short to feel miserable during your volunteer time.

Contrast that to my volunteer experiences with Junior League or my involvement with Leadership Fairfax or my other Board work, where my skills and experience are not only welcomed, but the organizations are always asking for more of it.  I walk away from these experiences feeling recharged, energized, and willing to do just about anything they want me to do.  I have done everything from shift work to long-range strategic planning – even in the same day – and I always walk away feeling exuberant.  Naturally the mission or cause is the primary reason for volunteering, but knowing that you are valued as a volunteer keeps you coming back.

When I go to my children’s schools, I go there because of them.  But I appreciate how the teachers’ faces light up and they say “thank you!”  Cutting construction paper flowers is not my life’s purpose, but if it makes my son’s teacher’s life a little bit easier, then that’s a good use of my time.  The fact that she seems so grateful makes me all that much more willing to do it.  Not once has my help been turned down or turned away nor have I been shamed for not having more time to give.  They are willing to take me as I am and take what I can provide. 

I’ve just finished a half day of training the League’s incoming leadership about being inspiring leaders.  If there is one thing they’ve taken away from today’s training, I hope it is that part of being a good leader is remembering how to treat your volunteers.  If you are in the role of recruiting or managing volunteers and find yourself surrounded by “slackers” you may want to ask yourself what kind of message you’ve been sending.  Did I use to be your volunteer?  Your “slackers” may be someone else’s star volunteers — see if you can keep them from running out the door!

Check out Volunteer Fairfax’s Volunteer Bootcamp – a great training program for managers of volunteers!  I have no affiliation with them, I just think it’s chock full of great info!

When Dreams Collide

There are moments in life when you realize, “Wow, this is it, this is what I’ve always wanted! It’s really happening!”  Those moments can become a swirling mixture of emotions: elation, fear, relief, sadness, a sense of time running out and at the same time a sense of time standing still.

Last night was one of those moments for me.

I received the official gavel and historic copy of Robert’s Rules of Order as the incoming President of the Junior League of Northern Virginia, a goal I set in recent years, but has its foundation in my mother’s two terms as President of the Miami Ballet Society in my girlhood.  Watching my mother and her friends working hard to put together galas and fundraisers to bring wonderful ballets to our city, I knew that one day I wanted to do something similar.  Decades later I’m in a different city and working with a different organization for a different cause, but I’m thrilled nonetheless to serve with an equally dedicated group of women.  It is a dream come true.

This, however, was not my first, nor my only dream.  I lived out my first dream in my first career, as a television journalist.  Although when I first embarked on the career, I had planned on going all the way to the networks, I ended up changing career tracks — dazzled by an opportunity that came my way literally on the same day as a job offer from a Salinas TV station — and took a wild ride on the Silicon Valley wave instead.

So somehow it seemed quite fitting that the chosen Woman of Vision and guest speaker on the night that I reached my “mid-life dream” of becoming President of the Junior League would be Washington DC’s NBC News4′s Barbara Harrison.  A 30+-years news veteran who has used her local fame to raise awareness about important women’s and children’s issues such as prenatal care and permanent homes for foster children.  We’ve reached out to her a few times for a few different events, and though she has always graciously wanted to be there, her schedule has not allowed her to.  And yet, miraculously, somehow this worked out.  Even though it conflicted with the White House Correspondent’s Dinner — our invitation came in first!  (Tell me something greater was not at work here!)

So there I was, on an evening where I was beginning to launch into one of my big (mid-life) goals, sitting next to a woman who was the very embodiement of one of my previous (young-life) goals.  A goal achieved, yes, for indeed I did become a reporter and anchor, but a goal I ultimately traded in for different goals — the excitement of something completely different, seeing what this “Web stuff” was going to be all about, and later, choosing to be a stay-at-home mother.

In our brief time together before the official part of the evening began, we discussed what the League does and the role of community service.  This drifted into an exchange where Barbara explained that she would’ve love to have been part of an organization like the Junior League, but her work schedule doesn’t allow it, and I explained that I understood completely what that was like having been there myself once, and that those of us in organizations like the League appreciate people in the media who help elevate the issues.  Which led to my offhand remark about having left journalism for Silicon Valley and her saying something of the effect, “Oh my, I think more of us wished we had had the opportunity to do that!”  And though she probably didn’t realize it, in one fell swoop, she made me remember once again, just how lucky I was.  For as we discussed the consolidating world of journalism and the downward pressure on salaries and the impact of new technologies on journalism and how that is currently impacting so many people in the field, I realized that even if I had stayed in television journalism, the dream I had as a sixteen-year-old would’ve looked very different in today’s reality.

Yes, there were so many wonderful, swirling emotions last night.  The honor I felt in being allowed to serve an organization I love so much in this capacity.  The pride I felt as my husband took the honorary “First Husband’s Frying Pan” (since he’ll probably be cooking a lot of meals on his own) in a good-natured show of support.  The flash of panic, “Am I really ready for this?”  And then the calm peace that comes when a dream is realized, and you know that you should enjoy this moment and drink it all in, for soon it won’t be long until it is time to aspire to yet a bigger one.