JLW Blog: Virtual JLW, Creative Responses Lead to Lasting Impact

By: Meredith Tierney Shields

In a virtual year, the Junior League of Washington’s many committees from community to in-league to fundraising have adjusted rapidly in order to keep the League’s mission alive and provide support to our community at a critical moment of need. Though there have been challenges, there have also been some unexpected highlights that have enhanced member experiences as well as the League’s ability to support our community.

As a mother of two very small children, with another on the way, I’ve attended more events this year than any other since having children. I’ve dialed into General Membership Meetings (GMM), Bubbly with the Board, committee meetings, and more all from my living room after saying goodnight to my children to attend the same meetings previously took great coordination and planning, and I’m not alone. 

Amelia Weisbuch, Membership Outreach Committee Chair, said they’ve “received a lot of feedback from members who love that the events are virtual because previously they’d found themselves stuck at work, unable to find parking, or without a babysitter – making them late or unable to make meetings at all.” Weisbuch noted they’ve had a lot of requests to keep virtual options available to GMMs and other meetings even after the height of the pandemic has passed.

For Membership Outreach, attendance has expanded significantly. In the past, events capped out at 300, but in the virtual environment, they’ve had 450+ attendees at GMMs this year. For a Bubbly with the Board this winter, there were 150 people registered, far more than ever could have fit in the Loughborough House. 

In addition to Membership Outreach, committees like Done-In-A-Day and Esprit have also experienced benefits from the virtual environment. Aida Latorre who chairs the Done-In-A-Day Committee commented that “they haven’t had to cap events this year [due to heightened demand] and have seen a lot of members return over and over for the programs they enjoy.” Esprit chair Sam Brainard said “all of the Esprit events have converted to virtual and we haven’t had to change our programming much at all, and [we] have seen more people sign-up because it’s easier to attend from home!”

In general, many committees cited a refreshing amount of creative thinking and pleasure in the process of being able to think differently about how to reach members and serve the community. Weisbuch noted that she’s seen a trend towards innovative thinking across the League – an exciting trend for the future.

However, there have certainly been challenges adapting to the virtual world. Despite all efforts, some committees like Iona Senior Services and Calvary Women’s Services deliver programming that isn’t easily converted to virtual. Iona volunteers traditionally provide meal delivery, which has been taken over by the city. They have, however, found other ways to provide support to Iona clients such as delivering valentines and encouraging thank you notes for Iona’s staff. Similarly, Calvary Women’s Services has been limited on the types of virtual programming they can provide, primarily due to the budget and costs associated with programming.

As is the case with so many of us, all committee chairs interviewed indicated their members miss engaging with each other socially. The in-person element cannot be fully replaced virtually and members miss seeing each other at Loughborough or being able to meet new people simply by sitting next to them at a meeting or volunteering event. For many, me included, they miss the natural break from work and home schedules that comes from getting ready and heading to a meeting or volunteering event on an evening or weekend (even if you have to navigate DC parking to make that happen).

Overall, the League’s resilience this year has been extremely impressive and the committee chairs I spoke with all agreed this year’s learnings will only lead to stronger programming in the future as committees continue to distill what they’ve learned and determine how to best integrate the best of both worlds into the future.