The Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri: women building better communities.
Compiled by: Alise Kowalski, PR/Marketing Chair, 2013-14
The Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri is an organization committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving the community and has been dedicated to this mission since its beginning 100 years ago. Throughout the past century of service, the League has been home to thousands of women throughout the Kansas City metro. And over the years, women have shared the League experience with their daughters, sisters and nieces.
The League Pulse asked a few women who have shared their League experience with a family member to chat about their experience on the blog. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing the stories that span many years in the League’s and illustrate the impact that has had on these women.
First up is Colleen Sheahan Goldblatt and her mother, Marsha Martin Sheahan. Marsha joined the Junior League of Topeka in 1976 and become a sustaining member in 1990. Since then she has served as sustaining advisor to several presidents, a speaker at new member classes, volunteered with fundraisers, hosted new member orientations in her home and contributed to the League’s endowment fund. Colleen joined the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri in 2001. After a brief stint Austin, Texas she returned to the Kansas City League and has been an active member for 11 years.
We first chatted with Colleen to learn more about her League experience.
League Pulse (LP): What placements have you enjoyed the most and why?
Colleen: My favorite placements have been Nominating committee and Leadership Institute Co-Chair (2012-2013). Although both required significant time commitments, I also found that I gained the most out of them. During my year on Nominating, I learned more about the League than I had in the many years prior. I was exposed to new leaders within the League. I worked with some of my favorite League women for the first time during this year. And I loved the challenge of helping to build our Leadership puzzle for the following year. As Leadership Institute Co-Chair, I had the good fortune to work with my good friend, Dena Nash. She is one of the biggest go-getters I’ve met through my League years and I was eager to work with her to accomplish big things. I also enjoyed taking the opportunity to begin exposing a class of women to the leadership lessons I’ve learned throughout my time in the League. Finally, as part of our curriculum, I realized a long-lived dream of building a mentor program that partnered our rising stars in the League with some of our most amazing Sustainers.
LP: What role does the League play in your life? In what ways has it helped you develop personally and/or professionally?
Colleen: The League is so many things for me… My outlet to give back to my community, to find mentors and bringing that full circle by enabling the League to continue to provide this opportunity to the next generation of women. I have had the opportunity in the League to learn new skills, to engage with women or agencies I would never have had the opportunity to meet thought my professional life. I also strongly believe that, thought my involvement in the League, I am modeling the type of woman I want my daughters to aspire to be – civically minded, always learning, engaged in her community, finding herself and her place in the world – merging her personal and professional life, and then modeling that behavior for the generations that will come after them.
LP: How did your mother’s involvement in the League shape your decision to join? What drew you to the League?
Colleen: When I moved to Kansas City after college, I was looking for a way to meet other young women. But I didn’t want to meet “just anyone.” I was looking for like-minded women. Those who were interested in building connections while volunteering for such wonderful causes. Because the League had been such a huge part of my mom’s life, there was no question that I would find young women like myself in the League. It felt like such a natural path and transition.
LP: In your opinion, how has the League changed since your mother was actively involved in League activities?
Colleen: I think that, through the years, the League has certainly become more working-woman friendly. My mom was the first President of her League to hold a full-time job during her tenure. (I still wonder how she did it with three kiddos at home.) Of course, I’ve also seen the advent of consumer technology change the way we communicate. I’ve seen the women in the League change in our expectations of ourselves. What hasn’t changed, though, is the significant work that League women contribute to the community and the caliber of the women who join, and stay, in the League.
LP: When you get into those inevitable “then and now” discussions, what stories do you recall that struck you as interesting or so different or similar to your experiences in the League?
Colleen: I think the thing that strikes me most is that the problems we are trying to solve for, as a League, really aren’t that different than the issues League has always faced. My favorite part of these “then and now” discussions is the perspective my mom brings – how she approached the issue. How they solved it. (Without email or smartphones or conference calls.)
LP: For your own children, are they or do you plan to involve them into your League experiences? Why or why not?
Colleen: My daughters have been involved in the League since they were both infants. They have helped stuff media bags for Holiday Mart, eaten dinner on the floor at headquarters, attended countless meetings, shopped (and ‘volunteered’ at Holiday Mart, and they LOVE to tackle the penguin at HQ. It’s important to me to teach my girls (early and often) about voluntarism, lifelong learning, and civic engagement and leadership. And, it’s not just about the work I’m doing. Like my mom did for me, I want to expose my girls to other women and families that have similar values, who can also be role models and inspiration for my daughters.
We also chatted with Colleen’s mother, Marsha, to learn about her experience with the League.
LP: What leadership roles and placements do you remember most fondly? Why?
Marsha: The opportunity to work with other League members to start the Topeka Community Foundation and of course, serving as president of the Topeka League in 1987-88. Both experiences “stretched” my volunteer skills and gave me the confidence to participate in many areas of the community.
LP: Throughout your membership, how did the League change? In what ways has it remained unchanged?
Marsha: When I joined the Topeka League, it was primarily a “day” league; they offered a night provisional class the year I joined. I was the first president that held a full-time job. The Topeka League used to have multiple community projects each year while today they focus on one project (Diaper Depot). The Topeka League has changed over the years to accommodate the needs of the membership as it shifted to primarily working women with a desire to contribute meaningfully to their community.
LP: What role did the League play in your life?
Marsha: The League gave me opportunities for personal growth and friendship. Today, I’m a great supporter of the League and have encouraged many young professional women to join.
LP: What did League membership entail? What were your requirements?
Marsha: For most of my active years, I had a community placement, an in-league placement and helped with Next to New, our major fundraiser, as the business manager. We were all required to donate clothing and household items and “work the sale” on sale day. I often added special duties along the way such as serving as chair of the headquarters task force.
LP: Was your daughter involved with League activities in her youth? If so, how do you think that influenced her decision to join?
Marsha: Colleen was a regular “youth” volunteer for the Next-to-New sale and of course went to events and activities with me. She learned the personal and community value of volunteering at an early age.
LP: What is your fondest memory from your League membership?
Marsha: The satisfaction of starting the Topeka Community Foundation which this year is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.
LP: How do you feel about your daughter being a member of the League?
Marsha: The League has been a part of our lives for many years; it’s a natural place for her to volunteer, offer her skills to the community and building lifelong friendships.
LP: How has your experience in the League influenced your life?
Marsha: The training and leadership opportunities I had as an active member enriched my skills that I have been able to apply in my professional and volunteer life.
LP: What do you hope new members and actives get out of their League experience?
Marsha: A sense of satisfaction of giving back to the community and helping others who are in need of community services. And of course, friends for life because of shared experiences.