The NYJL Goes On: Volunteer Development Strives and Thrives

By Rachel Geringer-Dunn, NYJL New Membership committee co-chair

Prospective volunteers attend a New Member Orientation to learn more about the NYJL.

COVID-19 has impacted every part of our lives. We never could have imagined that nearly a year into the pandemic, face masks and social distancing would still be a way of life. Despite the challenging mandate of staying home and away from one another, New York Junior League (NYJL) volunteers pivoted quickly and creatively to meet the needs of both our community partners and our volunteers.

Committees in the Volunteer Development Council—part of our Membership Area, which supports our volunteers’ learning and growth throughout their NYJL journey—set almost immediately to planning for the short and long term, continuing their outreach and events through the summer in preparation for the volunteer year ahead. Instead of letting changing circumstances paralyze us, we doubled down on our efforts, spending countless hours brainstorming and collaborating via Zoom within and across committees, with the ultimate goal of creating unique virtual experiences for prospective and current NYJL volunteers. 

One of the two NYJL committees responsible for welcoming new members to our organization, the New Membership committee faced this essential question: “How do we continue to engage prospective NYJL volunteers when we can no longer meet in person?” The committee reimagined our New Member Orientations (NMO) for the virtual environment by updating the format of the presentations and bringing additional voices into the conversation. The committee also instituted a practice of reaching out to each prospective applicant after every virtual NMO to provide an additional touch point. 

As the other entry point for new-to-the-NYJL volunteers from other Junior Leagues, many of whom are new to New York overall, the Transfers committee faced a similar challenge. If there was ever a challenging time to be moving to New York, the spring and summer of 2020 might have been it! Pivoting to a virtual format, the committee implemented monthly committee meetings and orientations to establish a higher touch point with both Transfers committee members and women transferring into the NYJL. The committee created monthly socials for the whole committee as well as smaller groups, kicking things off with a fabulous virtual brunch cooking class with fellow NYJL member and professional chef Maria Reina. 

The Provisional Training committee (PTC), which trains new volunteers (called “Provisionals”) who go on to become “Active members” upon course completion, also adapted to a virtual format. Several new Actives who were Provisionals last spring shared how much they continued to enjoy their Provisional Course despite the necessary mid-course change. PTC offered panels in which NYJL senior leadership spoke to Provisionals in a smaller, more intimate setting—a new opportunity not previously available when all Provisionals gathered together in the Harriman Room at the Astor House, NYJL’s headquarters. Once the fully virtual Provisional Training Course began in the fall, PTC created virtual Fundraising and Community volunteer experiences through which Provisionals had the opportunity to see what it is like to be a committee member in both areas. 

Building off the success of the Placement committee’s virtual Spring Placement Previews, the Placement committee embraced the challenge of staying connected with members this past fall. As “guidance counselors” for the League, Placement committee volunteers help others in the NYJL find the right fit among our many committees. As one volunteer noted after meeting a Placement Advisor virtually, “I didn’t know what to do and there you were, showing me that there were options” – an excellent example of NYJL members’ commitment to helping each other achieve their potential in a supportive and motivating environment. 

COVID-19 has forced us to be creative, innovative, and think strategically, in order to continue doing the good, essential work that so many—from community partners to city agencies—count on from the NYJL. We’re proud, yet unsurprised, to see how NYJL volunteers remain actively committed to our mission, despite current limitations, screen fatigue, and the unknown that is yet to come. Whatever 2021 holds, the women of the New York Junior League go on.

Being an NYJL volunteer comes with a lot of benefits—aside from the pride of serving your community! Learn more about the value of an NYJL membership and sign up for a New Member Orientation to hear more about the volunteer experience and ask questions.