Friday, June 9, 2017

Leadership in Bloom: Melissa Miller


Meet Melissa Miller, a JLW member who blew her friends and family away with her sheer positivity and force of life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 at just 27 years old. Facing a terrifying diagnosis and difficult treatment, Melissa fought back with optimism and determination. During and since her recovery, Melissa has served as an inspiration and role model to other young women facing the same diagnosis. She has selflessly devoted her time and energy to raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research and support. Read on to hear the story of how Melissa has touched the lives of so many women.

As a patient, how did you find the time or motivation to connect to others as an advocate for cancer awareness?
Being diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age was a very isolating experience, so spreading awareness with my story was a way for me to feel not so alone. In opening up and sharing my personal struggles, fears and victories with my network of friends and family, I ended up connecting with a lot of other young patients and survivors and became a part of a very special community. Becoming a champion for breast cancer awareness, especially among young women, was a natural progression for me. I didn’t know that this could happen to me at only 27 years old, and I didn’t want it to happen to anyone else.

How have you benefited from your advocacy work?
Becoming an advocate has helped me to gracefully move on to this next phase of my cancer “journey.” Life after treatment is hard and confusing: going from being a patient to a survivor comes with a whole new set of worries and fears. In raising money for The Pink Agenda and volunteering as a member of the Sibley Young Professional Board, I’m able to channel that energy into something positive.

The breast cancer community seems so close-knit and supportive. What do you think is so vital about women supporting other women?
We women need to stick together and advocate for one another to overcome the barriers that we face. In raising each other up and supporting one another, rather than competing or putting each other down, we create something strong and amazing. I’ve never felt more empowered than when I have had other women standing by my side raising me up. There is something special about the bond of women.

How do you see that special bond live out in Junior League? 
The relationships that I have formed during my membership in the League are so special to me. Not only have I found amazing friendship in other members, but I have expanded my personal and professional network in meeting smart, talented women I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to know. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Leadership in Bloom: Elyse Braner



Meet Elyse Braner, runner and motivator extraordinaire. When she’s not training for marathons or leading running clubs, Elyse sits on the board of Girls on the Run, a skill and confidence-building program for elementary school aged girls where she also coaches a team. Elyse credits much of her successes to both running and finding strong female mentors, so Girls on the Run is a special outlet through which she can pay it forward. Hear Elyse’s thoughts on how running can strengthen a young woman’s life, what inspired her to lead, and how running empowered her at a young age.

What is Girls on the Run? What inspired you to get involved?
Girls on the Run is a youth development program for girls in grades three through five. Each session, participants learn valuable life skills such as confidence, managing their feelings, healthy eating, and anti-bullying.  Each lesson is paired with a running workout, and by the end of twelve weeks, the girls all participate in a 5K race. Through the lessons and running, the girls recognize both their emotional and physical strength, as well as what makes them unique.

I was very shy and quiet growing up, and it was not until I was encouraged by a teacher to start running on the track team that I found my voice and confidence. Once I found running, I blossomed as an individual. I not only found my inner strength, but I found strength in being part of a team. When I heard about Girls on the Run, I was inspired to begin volunteering with the program based on how positively running had impacted my life.

Tell us about your responsibilities as a board member of Girls on the Run.
I am the Secretary of the Board for the Girls on the Run DC chapter. We plan to ensure the future of the organization by advising staff members on future growth, matters of the budget, fundraising, grants, and visibility. I sit on the Development Committee, which controls all of the fundraising activities of the organization. I believe board members have a financial responsibility to support the organizations that they are involved in, so I always engage in my own fundraising efforts for the organization as well.

Additionally, I coach a Girls on the Run team at Hyde-Addison Elementary School. My direct involvement in the activities of the organization helps me understand how the organization runs on a daily basis, as well as the needs of organization and the girls we serve.

What have you learned through your leadership experiences with Girls on the Run? First and foremost, as I have transitioned from a volunteer to a board member, I have learned to think more strategically about Girls on the Run. Instead of being a doer and constantly taking on tasks, I have had to learn how to look beyond my Girls on the Run team and focus on the entire organization as a whole, as well as be able to assist in planning for the organization’s future.

JLW’s Get on Board program absolutely prepared me to become a board member of a nonprofit.  I walked into my first board meeting knowing what my roles and responsibilities as a board member were, what my role was versus the role of a staff member, and how board meetings run. The program certainly lowered the learning curve for me.

What would your piece of advice be to JLW members who want to seek out community leadership or board opportunities?
Find an organization with a mission that you are passionate about. Start volunteering with the organization and get involved as much as you can. Often boards have committees that volunteers can join, and those are often provide ladders to the board.  Meet the board members and Executive Director and voice your interest. Find out if you have skills that the board needs…legal skills, marketing or communication skills, accounting skills, etc. The more passionate you are about the mission, the more your authenticity will shine through and the more you will want to contribute.
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How have you been empowered or benefited from other women?
One of the most important roles of a leader is to train the next group of leaders. I attended a women’s college and have been involved with both Girls on the Run and the Junior League of Washington for the past 10 years, so I am lucky to have had amazing and inspiring women around me. I have always had wonderful mentors and women around me who made me see my potential and value.

How do you empower other women?
I try to help them carve out opportunities for themselves to use their skills and to put them in a position where they will be recognized by leadership. I am very big on goal-setting, so one of the first things I do if someone has a goal to be on the board is I assist them in charting out their course to get there, based on my experiences becoming a board member and voting on potential board members. I do have a goal and dream that every woman who I am able to mentor or help in even a small way will develop a strong sense of self-worth and that they know that they are valuable just simply for who they are. When we drown out the noise and unrealistic expectations that we sometimes find in society, the real work can begin.