It was a joy welcoming members back to HQ (virtually and in person) for our 99th Annual Membership Meeting on May 18, 2021. Together, we celebrated the accomplishments of League Year 99 and looked ahead to Year 100! If you weren’t able to join us for the festivities, please take a moment to recognize our new actives, new sustainers, and 2020 & 2021 Paragon Award recipients by checking out the slide show and photos from the event.
Year 99 Presidential Farewell Address
Sarah Creekmore Woodall, President
This is not the year that any of us imagined. In the past 15 months, our city and our members have navigated through:
- a devastating tornado
- an ongoing and divisive global pandemic
- heightened racial turmoil
- a tumultuous election season
- a Christmas Day bombing
- a blizzard
- a flood
- and a second tornado
Each of us has been impacted by these events differently – some of us have experienced mild inconveniences and some have had our lives forever changed. Before we move forward, I would like to pause for a moment and honor individuals who have worked day in and day out to help keep others safe, like first responders and front-line health care workers. And individuals in the hospitality and entertainment industries, whose livelihood was dependent on people gathering, to teachers and educators who, like us, had to reimagine and rework content delivery in new and challenging ways. And I would like to pause as well to acknowledge the loss, of livelihood, of homes, and of life. To all of those whose lives were forever changed, we honor you with this moment of silence.
I have always been a collector of quotes. Unique nuggets of wisdom that I save in my quote book – never knowing when the perfect moment to recite one presents itself. Maybe not surprising in this day and age, I get a fair amount of inspiration from Tweets or “Insta” posts. I took this one down on November 14, 2019 in my quote book, credited to Denzel Washington. (Now, who knows really if it was the “real” Denzel – so in full disclosure, this is not blue checkmark verified Denzel)… but no matter who originally said it, looking back, I couldn’t believe the timing of the quote and how much inspiration it would provide:
“Grapes must be crushed to make wine.
Diamonds form under pressure.
Olives are pressed to release oil.
Seeds grow in darkness.
Whenever you feel crushed, under pressure, pressed or in darkness, you’re in a powerful place of transformation. Trust the process.”
There are definitely moments in the past year that I have felt crushed, under pressure, pressed, or in darkness, and I know many of you have felt the same. In many ways it felt like we stood still this year, or paused. We’re a member organization and didn’t get to have much member togetherness! But Denzel, or fake Denzel, is right about needing to “Trust the process.” As an organization, we are at that place of transformation— of reimagining. What was borne out of this year was the ability to show our resiliency as an organization, our adaptability, and dare I say it, our ability to PIVOT!
Our community volunteers were able to adapt by filling the needs of community partners through creative ways like making and delivering gardening kits or pizza-making kits. We kept the BINGO tradition alive by offering virtual BINGO to patients at Children’s hospital. We collected 5,000 books to donate to partners – with technology-forward ways of purchasing like QR Codes!
We were able to support our Community Endowment with our first ever virtual auction – over the course of an entire weekend instead of a single event, any member could log on and bid on items from the comfort of her home, in pjs and still support our community partners.
We created socially distanced ways to offer engagement among members – like our Secret Santa and Spring flower exchange!
We offered our first-ever RiseUp Women’s summit, led by our fabulous co-chairs who you saw honored earlier tonight. The original idea for this was going to be an in-person in Nashville event, having to consider space constraints from physical buildings. Instead, we were able to create an amazing virtual event that women could adapt to their schedules, AND our almost 300 attendees were watching from multiple states!
Before March 2020, discussion after discussion happened over the years – how do we offer more flexibility to our membership? Enter the world of Zoom. And I have publicly said all year long, purposely with the word NEVER – we will NEVER go back to having to ask members to physically show up in this building for meetings. Those times that members are out of town for work, a babysitter cancels, or you just don’t feel like fighting rush hour traffic in Green Hills – our transformation will allow us to offer the choice of how a member participates.
In this time of uncertainty, and I want to point out, this is not the first occasion we have gone through uncertain times and won’t be the last, our Mission has not and did not change. We continue to be tirelessly committed to our members and our community. While nothing could have prepared us for the events of the past year, our training prepared us to adapt and think creatively about how we could continue to support our community and each other. Our members found inventive ways to serve and train even when we couldn’t be together in person.
And that’s why we will come out of this stronger. Our organization will produce the wine, the diamonds, the oil, and the seeds will sprout. It’s because our mission is steadfast and our members are loyal. Your MEMBERSHIP MATTERS. It matters because we develop connections with amazing women of all walks of life who share a common mission to give back to our community and to each other. I know for me and I believe for so many of you, this unusual time has been a great reminder of what a great support system we have in our Junior League community. The friendships we have formed are built to last even in the most trying times. Membership matters because collectively we go out trained and ready to lead. We go out more knowledgeable about the issues that our community faces and the challenges and the ways we can help.
Before I close, I would like to take a few moments to recognize individuals who have made a difference in my personal journey. (This is the Academy Award speech part of the night.)
First, I have to thank my family – my parents Larry and Nancy and sisters Laura and Allison, whose example taught me how to be a servant leader. Without whom I would not be the woman standing before you today.
To my husband Jay and daughter Eva Grace – we never imagined that we would be traversing this journey while both working full-time from home and virtually home-schooling, which created a LOT of together-time in a year we thought Mom would be away for JLN meetings a lot. But I wouldn’t want to be on this journey with anyone else. And I’m sure the staff will agree that Eva Grace’s regular presence at JLN with me breathed life into this lonely building. She even prepared a speech and asked Amy for a salary. She’s already learning negotiation skills from the League!
To the Team 99 Council and Management Team – The sweet spot where the vision and goals of our organization meets the action steps happens with our council leadership and our management team. I’m so thankful to each of these women for their willingness to imagine new possibilities this year. I would specifically like to recognize our Management Team:
Adria DeLaune – Development
LaKishia Harris – our first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion VP
Jessica Hopson – Marketing and Communications
Nina Kumar – Community
Kathryn McNabb – Membership
Michaela Morrison – Treasurer-Elect
And Samantha Yeargin – Operations
Thank you for your leadership.
To my Board of Directors – The women who have been my advisors, my friends, and my support who are always willing to have a Bonus Board meeting to make sure we get all the important work done!
Shana Allsmiller and Angela Moretti Goddard – Sustainer Directors
Claudia Byers, Brittany Irby, and Jade Sampson – Active Directors
Cara Deese – EVP-Elect
Elisa Goodrich – Nominating Chair
Jeanai Ranero – Treasurer
Elizabeth Wood – Recording Secretary
Thank you to each of you for your commitment, your leadership, and your vision.
To our dedicated staff – Aimee Davis, our new employee Marin Sieck (seek) who started yesterday, Kat Trammell for all their hard work and support of all our volunteer efforts. And to our Managing Director, Amy Smotherman – who has been my rock and my calm this year. Her in-depth knowledge and commitment to JLN provides stability every year but in this year, that became more important than ever.
To my right-hand, our fabulous Executive Vice-President – Jenna Watson. Never have I met a more caring, considerate, thoughtful, and passionate leader. Your dedication, patience, and spirit have made this journey the joy of a lifetime and I’m so glad we got to do it side by side. (Figuratively. Since this is only the 3rd time I’ve seen you in person all year!)
And finally to my BFFLs. First to the woman who taught me how to lead this organization, Nahed Zehr. I thank you for your support, your kindness, your understanding, and your lifelong friendship.
And to my partner in this Pandemic journey – the incomparable Jenny Barker. It has been my honor to serve with you this year. I could not have been better matched with a PE to work alongside. You are poised and ready to lead our organization through the next step in the journey, and I will be cheering you on from the sidelines.
As I close, one last quote:
“Do not forget this year or set it aside as a mere obstacle. Use it to nourish your conviction that difficulties can be overcome, perils can be faced and crises turned to opportunities through determination and commitment, and by working together toward one goal.” – Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, Vanderbilt University
We worked together this year towards our goal of improving the community, and I could not be more proud to have served as president of this wonderful organization during such an extraordinary year. It has taken all of us to get through it, and I will forever be in awe of the adaptability, flexibility, and resiliency you all have shown as members and will forever be humbled by the faith, confidence, and support you have shown in me as your leader. It has been the privilege of a lifetime.
And with that… The Pandemic President is out!