Volunteering with GFWC by Meagan Johnson

Written By Meagan Johnson, HR and IT Manager

When I started working with Now IT Matters, I was a member of the General Federation of Woman's Clubs (GFWC). I had been serving in my local Junior Club for about 7 years. I spent several years chairing or serving on various committees. In 2019 I was pleased to be installed as our local Club President.

The GFWC is an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement. We “Live the Volunteer Spirit” by raising funds and awareness for good causes. We partner with many non-profit organizations, including:

  • Prevent Child Abuse America

  • March of Dimes

  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

  • Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY)

  • Canine Companions for Independence

  • Heifer International

  • Operation Smile

  • United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Campaign

  • U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

As the President of our local club, I represent my club at District and State levels. This was the first year that I have been fully immersed in GFWC as a local officer. In April, I attended two events- the GFWC Illinois 16th District Convention in Creve Coeur, Illinois, and the 17th/16th District Junior Convention in Bloomington, Illinois. In May I attended the GFWC Illinois State Convention in Rock Island, Illinois.

At the 16th District Convention in April, I met Barb Potter, GFWC IL Central Region Vice President. Barb spoke at the convention, with firsthand experience and knowledge of Operation Smile. Operation Smile provides surgical repairs to children born with Cleft Lip or Palette. Every 3 minutes, a child is born with Cleft Lip and/or Cleft Palette.

Barb had traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip for GFWC, to volunteer with Operation Smile. Barb shared photos that walked us through the entire process. Barb described the check-in process, the use of translators, the check-ups that kids went through, the surgery day, the facilities (or lack of), and their recovery. Each volunteer flew in with least one suitcase full of bubbles, crayons, markers, balloons, beach balls, and cars. Volunteers were alongside doctors every step if the way. Barb shared that GFWC has been partnering with Operation Smile since 1988. GFWC Members sew hospital gowns and blankets. They also collect and make donations towards surgeries. The surgery takes as little as 45 minutes for a cost of $240 per surgery.

Before that day in April, I had been a GFWC member for 8 years and knew very little about the Operation Smile process. I didn't know that members were making blankets and hospital gowns, and I love to sew. I realized I could have been sewing things for Operation Smile for the past eight years. I walked away that day with a sense of purpose and sewing patterns for hospital gowns and "No-No Armbands." The armbands prevent children from bending their arms and touching their faces during healing. There is a need for flashlights and D Cell batteries. Power is intermittent in most countries where Operation Smile serves. How many people have performed surgery but had one of their major concerns be access to power? What an amazing mission.

In May I represented my local GFWC club as their Club President. I attended the two-day State Convention in Rock Island, IL. I was also able to attend the one-day LEADS Leadership Conference.

LEADS covered topics in leadership and volunteering. This year's topics included strategies for meetings, managing projects, parliamentary procedures, agendas and minutes, increasing membership, and fundraising.

The GFWC Illinois Annual Convention hosted several outside speakers as well. One of my favorites was Mike Coyne-Logan with Living Lands and Waters. Mike showed several before and after images of polluted waterways. He demonstrated how one man's mission to clean up our waterways became much larger. Located 40 minutes from my hometown, in East Moline, Illinois, Living Lands and Waters began with one man and one boat. It has grown to include an entire crew, several boats, barges, and a crane. Living Lands and Waters coordinates Cleanups involving thousands of volunteers each year. They collect tons of garbage from the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. In their floating barge classroom, they host high school students during summers and spring breaks. Students board the barge to help to clean up waterways across the US. The crew spends up to 9 months of the year living on the barge, hosting river cleanups, watershed conservation initiatives, workshops, and tree plantings. Much of what they find is later recycled, including plastics, metals, and tires. GFWC Illinois was able to present Living Lands and Waters with a $4000 check towards their mission.

Our Club took part in the Purple Purse Project. Club members attending convention donated 76 purses stuffed with necessities and pampering items. All purses were on display. The purses were given as Mother's Day gifts for residents at several local Domestic Violence Shelters. I was able to bring a few purses home to donate to Freedom House, our local domestic violence shelter.

As Club President, I was able to meet many other club women from across the state. We discussed causes we are passionate about and exchanged ideas for our local clubs. We talked through fundraising ideas and shared experiences. It took me eight years to be able to attend this GFWC event, and it was very important for me to attend.

State Awards were also given out during the convention. I accepted several awards on behalf of my club and its members. This award time was a celebration, an uplifting of women who are passionate about causes. When award winners were announced, they were encouraged with clapping hands (some of them plastic), ringing cowbells, and much cheering. It was a time to celebrate. WE did these things, through hours and hours of volunteer work.

I am pleased to bring back information to energize my Junior Woman’s Club. Volunteer experiences have been instrumental in shaping my personality and work ethic. GFWC has increased my knowledge of non-profits, fundraising, event planning, and managing/leading teams. The inspiration to serve others through volunteering is parallel to my supporting role of HR & IT Manager at Now IT Matters. Kudos to NiM for providing a flexible work environment that continues to enable us to give back. Through our daily work, and our own local volunteer efforts. #TeamNiM