We talk often about what the Junior League of Asheville does for the Asheville Community, but what do our members get out of being a part of our organization? We asked two of our active members, Kendra Ferguson (2015–2016 Treasurer) and Lauren Woodard (2015–2016 Vice President of Community) as well as one of our 2015–2016 provisional members, Anna Richardson, to answer a few questions about their member experience and what the JLA has given back to them.
Kendra Ferguson grew up in Spring Creek, North Carolina (located in Madison County), on a tobacco farm but always attended school in Buncombe County and graduated from Erwin High School. She attended Clemson University and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. After Clemson, she came home to the Asheville area and obtained a master’s degree in accountancy from Western Carolina University in 2011. Kendra began her career at Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP in 2011 where she now serves as an Assurance Manager specializing in the audits of local governments (such as counties, school boards and Indian tribes). She lives close to family in Leicester with her boyfriend, Travis, and their three dogs. Kendra has two sisters, one who lives in Asheville and another who lives in Greenville, South Carolina.
Lauren Woodard grew up in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, until the age of 12, when Lauren and her mom moved to Asheville. She obtained a B.A. in psychology from UNC-Asheville and attended graduate school at Western Carolina University where she earned her master’s degree in social work. Lauren spent the first four years of her social work career in Washington, DC, working for George Washington University Hospital and the George Washington Medical Faculty Associates. While there she also earned her LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) and OSW-C (certified oncology social worker) designations. Lauren moved back to Asheville in the fall of 2013. Lauren opened her own private counseling practice, Bloom Counseling & Consulting in downtown Asheville in August of 2015.
Anna Richardson was a member of our 2015–2016 provisional class and became a full, active member in May. Anna was born in Joilet, Illinois, but only lived there briefly before moving to and living in Alaska, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, and finally Hendersonville, North Carolina. She went to college at both Middle Georgia College in Cochran, Georgia, and University of North Georgia in Dahlonega and is taking classes online to complete her degree in Business Management this year. Anna works full time as a patient service coordinator for PT Solutions and part-time for the Asheville Tourists. She has family around the country, but her closest relatives live in Hendersonville. Her sister and her family live in Florida and Anna’s older brother is a Marine currently stationed in Indian Head, Maryland.
Why did you join the Junior League of Asheville and what did you expect when you joined? Did your experience turn out as you expected?
Kendra: I joined the Junior League of Asheville to meet other women who cared about their community. I expected that I would make friends by joining. My expectations have been vastly exceeded as I have gained so much more from being a member than I could have ever dreamed.
Lauren: I joined the Junior League of Asheville in January 2014 with the hopes of giving back to the community I love. I also hoped that it would be a wonderful way to make new friends. My experience with the Junior League of Asheville has been so much more than I could have ever expected. At my first JLA Leadership Retreat in the summer of 2014 (right after I became an active member), I remember sustainer Lori Hilliard saying during her presentation that “You get out of JLA what you give to JLA.” I remember having chill bumps and deciding at that moment to give my all to this organization and say yes to leadership when given the opportunity. Serving in leadership for my two active years has changed my life.
Anna: I had heard about Junior League from other women in my family. My sister is currently active in the Junior League of Tallahassee. When I joined JLA I didn’t know anyone. I moved up here in August of 2015, so I had missed all the recruiting events from that year. I joined because I heard great things about my sister’s experiences and wanted to have that bond with women who shared the same interests I did. When I joined I figured it would just be project after project. Within those first few months I realized it was more than just community projects and volunteering. It was about building relationships with peers, and gaining role models who challenged me to grow.
How did the training you received through the JLA positively impact your career or you as a person?
Lauren: I have benefited in so many ways through joining the JLA. When I joined in 2014, I knew I valued and wanted to be a community leader, but lacked confidence and experience in the area. What I absolutely love about the Junior League of Asheville is that I have been given numerous opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and step into roles that I never would have had the chance to experience in my day-to-day career. I have also made amazing friendships with women from all walks of life who truly believe in helping and empowering one another. Through the leadership skills, friendships, and training I have gained from the JLA, I developed the confidence to step forward in making a long time dream come true…opening my own business! Without the JLA, I think it would have taken me many more years to gain the leadership confidence to take the leap into business ownership.
Kendra: I attribute a lot of the success I have had in my career so far to the experiential training I’ve received through my placements in the JLA. In particular, serving as the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer has made me a better auditor because I have now gone through the experience of being audited myself. Also, I am so much more confident in my public speaking abilities and my ability to lead in general as a result of all of the training I’ve received from the JLA.
Anna: After being a provisional member in the JLA about 5 months, my confidence really increased. Being 23, I was taking a break from my degree and working a job that wasn’t going to take me anywhere. I also dealt with depression and anxiety through high school. My anxiety is a social-based anxiety, so I don’t really get involved or put myself out there career-wise. I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. Being around the women of the JLA, who are so driven in what they do, built up my confidence that I could be like them. I ended up landing a job with a lot of career potential and I have gone back to school full time. When I joined I thought it would be a great way to make friends in this area since I don’t keep up with anyone from high school, and I ended up with both role models and friends. I have grown in such a short time from a college student to a confident, professional woman.
What would you say to any woman considering membership in the Junior League of Asheville?
Kendra: Just do it! You will meet and become friends with incredible women, improve the Asheville area community, and grow—both personally and professionally.
Lauren: If you have a heart for community stewardship, want to make lasting friendships with women who truly believe in you, and you are ready to grow as a leader…don’t think twice, just join! When you join, heed the advice I was given: “you will get out of JLA what you put into JLA.” If you allow it, JLA will change your life forever.
Anna: I would tell any woman considering the JLA to join. Just in this year I have met the most amazing group of women and taken on things I didn’t think I would ever do. I have gained a confidence in myself I never thought I would have. The JLA has made me confident in who I am and my current life situation. It has shed a whole new light on the Asheville community that I did not previously know about.
What has been your most valuable JLA experience to date?
Kendra: Serving on the Board of Directors this past year (2015–2016). We have encountered some really incredible challenges and I am so proud of how the Board has worked together as a team and has been very methodical in our approach to tackling those challenges. I feel confident that the future of the League is very bright.
Lauren: This is such a hard question—there have been so many! During a recent volunteer shift at Steadfast House, I spotted the sweet four-year-old girl with whom I had connected during previous volunteer shifts there. As soon as she spotted me, her eyes lit up and she ran to me; giving me one of the biggest hugs I have ever received. She said that she had missed me and that she loved me. Later, her mother shared with me that the child had spoken of me often and kept asking if she would see me again. It was at that moment that it really hit me that the JLA was doing so much more than playing games and reading to the children of Steadfast House—we are really making a meaningful impact in the lives of the women and children there by building relationships and trust with them. Who says a hug can’t change the world? That hug definitely changed mine!
Anna: There have been so many valuable experiences I have taken from the JLA and it’s hard to pick only one. I will never forget being at the Black Mountain Home for Children, Youth & Families for Volunteer-A-Thon. Brittany and Megan’s enthusiastic promotion of it at GMM made me choose that location. I was there for both shifts and worked with two different groups of JLA women. I felt like I really got to know some of the active members as well as more about some of the new members I hadn’t talked with much before the Volunteer-A-Thon. Also, hearing that the Black Mountain Home doesn’t just kick the kids out when they are 18, but gives them tools and resources to go to college or get a job shows they really do care about the kids. Words just can’t even begin to truly describe that day for me.
By Lauren Karlsson