Friday, April 12, 2013

The Place You Can Go

We are each the sum of our expereinces, which is why I never believe in regrets. Sometimes experiences are trying and other times, they define who we are. On Wednesday night, I spent my time with a group of amazing women as we listened to 4 speakers talk about how Junior League helped them launch a career in public service. Each had a story of how the Junior League influenced their decision to join either a local/county/state commission or run for office.

Cat Carleton led SPAC (State Public Affairs Committee) for the Junior League in Calfornia. She said that what she accomplished during her time left her feeling empowered. When her son asked why the water fountains in the local park never worked, she decided to take action. She joined the Parks and Recreation commission only to find that they advise and City Council can make any decision they want. Desiring to make a larger impact, she ran for City Council and now serves the local community of Menlo Park. She emphasized that you get back what you put in.

Virginia Kiraly sits on the Fire Board. Again, her interest was sparked due to the experiences she had in the Junior League. She helped transition a Junior League led project to the local Fire Departments. She immediately knew that fire safety was to become an important part of her future. In addition, she has also served on the San Mateo Grand Jury, which led her to take on the task of starting a non-profit so that all our local schools are directly connected to first responders. This issue was identified through personal experiences with her son's school.

Karen Fryling - real estate expert and PTA President! Karen is active on 5 boards and encouraged our group to think about their passions. While she believes our community is what we give back, she also notes that you're only at you're best when you're truly passionate.

Anna Zara spoke about her tenure on the library commission. In fact, after 8 years, she termed out! She now understands why the government works at a snails pace. In a representative democracy, you have to listen to everyone, which can take a long time. As a self-proclaimed geek with a background in engineering, she used Junior League to learn about non-profits.

Each of these ladies is proud of what they've accomplished (and should be!) and each of them believe that Junior League helped them get to where they are. Whether it is helping them discover their passion or being able to take "safe" risks within the League. The League helped sculp their leadership style, espcially the ability to lead, inspire and influence volunteers. It's different when the consequences for not doing something are not concrete. Simple items become ever important in the public sphere like making an agenda and more importantly a manageable agenda. They can run a meeting efficiently with a defined objective, so that the meeting doesn't go off target. Together they reminded us that going into the public sphere is different than business. You CANNOT have your own agenda as you do REPRESENT a bigger party.

If anyone wants to get involved, we were encouraged to contact CA Women Lead. The organization helps match women with state commissions based on interest and experience. State commissions often meet 4 times per year, though in various parts of the state. The time commitment can be small for a large impact and from what I hear, there is a state commission for everything.

And of course, the famous parting words, connect the dots, meaning do your homework before joining any commission or city/county/state government. The last obstacle you want to face is that of competing personalities. Next we were told you must learn to work within the organization. From learning how governemnt runs to how to work within the confines of the the Brown Act, it takes some adaptation and emotional intelligence to make a difference. Lastly, have fun!