Our society benefits when leaders volunteer and get involved. A great example of a leader proving this premise is Michelle Kearns. Originally from Pierceton, Indiana, she is proud to call Fort Wayne home and is quick to give back by serving on several boards, including Junior League of Fort Wayne (JLFW). JLFW is an impressive educational and charitable organization. Kearns, an eight-year member of Junior League and its current president, is also the marketing communications director for Physicians Health Plan—a local, nonprofit health insurance company—and a graduate of Ball State University.
Junior League’s tag line is “women building better communities” and Kearns certainly exemplifies this slogan. Here, Kearns shares why she is involved in JLFW, how this organization positively impacts our community and how a busy schedule doesn’t stop her from currently serving as JLFW president.
Q1: What is JLFW’s mission?
JLFW’s mission is to promote voluntarism, develop the potential of women and improve the community through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. We are focused on issues, activities and education to prepare children to ensure their readiness for elementary school.
Q2: How has Fort Wayne benefited from JLFW’s efforts?
We provide leadership training and personal development opportunities that are unmatched in our community. In addition to hands-on volunteer service, Junior League members are trained to be effective board members to further serve Fort Wayne and our nonprofit community. Look around the top nonprofit board rooms in Fort Wayne and you will undoubtedly find at least one JLFW active or sustaining (alumni) member.
Members learn to organize groups to move forward on an issue and advocate for the women and children who may not have a voice that is heard. Since JLFW’s formation in 1941, countless volunteer hours and over $1 million dollars have been invested in the Fort Wayne community.
Our projects have included tackling important issues like literacy, childhood obesity and child abuse. We also work towards improvement in the areas of women’s self-sufficiency, access to the arts and immunizations and screenings. We founded Erin’s House and have been instrumental in supporting many other organizations with our time and money, including Fox Island County Park, Science Central, the McMillen Center for Health Education and Turnstone.
Q3: What initiatives can Fort Wayne expect to see from JLFW next? And, do you have any events coming up in the near future?
Later this year, we will be launching our new Readiness for First Grade program featuring education workshops for parents and caregivers. These workshops will foster the skills and training parents, guardians and caregivers need to prepare children to be well-equipped for first grade.
One event I would like to make people aware of is JLFW’s “New to You” community-wide rummage sale which will take place on Saturday, October 31st at the Fort Wayne Armory on Cook Road from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.
Q4: As a busy professional, mother of two daughters and wife, how do you fit volunteer time into your schedule?
Some weeks, my family and I definitely take it a day at a time. I have a fantastic husband, supportive parents and a great employer to make the balancing act work. I also grew up with the greatest role model who taught me the importance of voluntarism; My mom volunteered with various activities and organizations. She led by example. I think this is also true for Junior League. We have an amazing group of community leaders in our Sustaining Membership. They serve as examples of what educated, trained women can accomplish in our community.
Q5: What led you to take on the role of board president and what do you hope to accomplish while in that position?
About four years ago, JLFW began work on a community research project to identify the issues that were most in need in Fort Wayne and Allen County. After many interviews with community leaders and extensive data analysis, we identified “readiness for elementary school” as the area we could make the greatest impact to improve our community and provide lasting change. My goal has been to see the roll-out of our new program and activities that address this issue.