Julia Strickland Leads Junior League Forces

Julia Strickland is a good listener.

We met at an event—just like so many other people we meet in our line of work—and we had a conversation. That first chat wasn’t one of depth or complexity, really. It was small talk, two ladies exchanging pleasantries and getting to know one another. Time passed, maybe weeks, maybe months. When I saw her again, she remembered things I hadn’t even remembered sharing.

She’s also a good speaker. On a separate occasion, when we discussed the Junior League of Little Rock and her passion for our community and its people, I saw her light up. Her sincerity was evident and touching. For me, something just clicked, and I walked away with a deeper understanding of the JLLR’s mission and Strickland’s vision for its future. We connected in real life, which is a rarity in a world of Facebook updates, tweets and nonstop e-mails.

As the new president of the Junior League of Little Rock, Strickland’s ability to be not only a good speaker, but also a good listener will serve her well as she inspires women to become excellent community leaders charged with creating social change.

The business manager for Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C., Strickland was raised in Springdale by her parents, Roger and Mary Haney. She has a brother Steven, one year her junior. She attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and obtained her bachelor of science in business administration. She holds three certifications: public accounting, management accounting and legal manager.

A degree isn’t the only thing she got from the UA. It’s also where she met her husband, Reese Strickland, controller for Fletcher Auto Group. The couple has three children: Katie, 10, Will, 8, and Erin, 5.

How in the world does she juggle family, career and presiding over the JLLR? It’s not the first time Strickland has fielded the question. “I find that question to be a relative one with no standard response among women. My husband and I determine our priorities and rely on a weekly schedule to ensure adequate time is devoted to our family, work and helping others,” she said. “Planning only gets you so far. When a child is sick, or I have many deadlines at work, our system can break down. We recognize that there are limits to what we can achieve, and we remain flexible to work through what are the immediate priorities.”

Strickland first became involved in the League in 2001, after prompting from a friend. “I love that the League is an organization of women, supporting each other and sharing the same passion of bettering the lives of all women and children in our community,” she said.

Although she never necessarily envisioned herself as JLLR president, it’s a role that seems to come naturally. “I have always been that person who wants to learn more about what surrounds me every day,” she said. “If not, I could miss opportunities that would help me in all facets of life. The League is a training organization, so I tried to seek out roles that may be out of my proverbial ‘comfort zone.’ In my role as president, I have the opportunity to ensure other women can develop themselves as leaders so they can be that example for others who are less fortunate.”

And as a leader, she’s done more than just research the topic. Strickland is a graduate of Class XXIII of Leadership Greater Little Rock and a graduate of Class I of the Emerging Leaders program of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas. She was also honored in 2009 as one of Arkansas Business’ “40 Under 40” and is the immediate past president of the Arkansas Association of Legal Administrators. It’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about leadership.

Her presidency means she serves the JLLR as its executive officer, presiding over all the board of directors meetings, general membership meetings and community advisory board meetings. She also oversees the execution of the JLLR’s strategic plan, which is a three-year rolling plan, updated each year by the prospective board.

“In other words,” she said, “utilizing the strengths of the board of directors, my job will entail facilitating a culture of sustainability within the League by developing women to be leaders at all levels of our organization. In doing so, we can more effectively lead our organization’s efforts to create a deeper social impact. For this reason, our theme for 2010-2011 is ‘Learn it and Lead.’”

Strickland says the book that influenced their strategic plan and theme is “Forces for Good,” by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, which she discovered a couple of years ago. “The book discusses that a nonprofit must do more than improve its internal management practices. Organizations must seek to leverage outside resources and inspire others for their cause, in order to create a deeper social impact.”

And how can one not be inspired by what they do? The JLLR’s community projects are numerous, and address a number of concerns. One of their newest projects is “Be Wise, Immunize,” and Strickland says it was a success in its first year, with more than 100 children attending the April event. School-aged children were given free immunizations, along with vision, hearing and dental exams, as well as general medical services.

Another project, The FACT project (Families and Community Together) supports teen mothers so they can delay future pregnancies, complete a high school education and be better parents. Strickland says guest speakers are invited to share their knowledge and experience with these teens, a perfect example of leveraging resources. “You can see the enthusiasm in their faces as they listen to a pediatrician explain how to care for their infants, or help each other determine the type of college degree they should seek. One of the teens announced that she wanted to be a Junior League member,” Strickland exclaimed.

The GROW project is designed to reach adolescent girls at a time when their self-esteem and self-image is most vulnerable, said Strickland.

Approximately 65 girls attend monthly Saturday meetings and two retreats throughout the school year. The topics include goal setting, communication skills, career orientation, volunteerism and more. “I attended the [graduation] ceremony last month and was touched by the number of family members there to support the GROW girls. You could see how proud they were as they watched their daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and/or friend accept their certificate. The strength of support from the audience is exactly what will help push these girls to succeed throughout their lives,” she said.

As a mother of three, setting a good example for her children is a top priority for Strickland. “My children and the legacy I want to leave for them keeps me going. Through my work with the Junior League, my children will learn from the examples that I set and be inspired to become involved in the community as they grow older. Invariably, while I expect to gain many things from the League, the community and my children will gain much more.”

On a more personal level, Strickland says that her League experiences have changed her perception of what it means to be a trained volunteer. “The League takes volunteering to another level through the training it provides to develop a civic leader,” she said. “We can create more impact on our community when we understand the issues facing us, operate from a written plan of action and efficiently organize support from other volunteers.”or professional growth each one seeks.”

Strickland on Fireworks

“The Fourth of July in Springdale is a highly celebrated event during the hottest time of year. I have so many childhood memories from the Fourth…from watching the local parade on Emma Avenue, to marching in the parade in high school. The rodeo is a huge attraction in town. I loved watching the wild bucking broncos while eating a mound of pink cotton candy. Then there is the wonderful summer food: the barbecue, the watermelon and the homemade ice cream. My dad would spend hours checking on the ice cream as it churned all afternoon.

“After the sky grew dark, we would shoot off bottle rockets and fountains until the fireworks were gone. Today’s fireworks have evolved into much grander displays of sparkles and lights, but when I was a little girl, I would stand amazed at the size and scale of the whole production. I could have watched the fireworks for hours. Sparklers are my favorite! My brother and I would wave them in the air to create letters and shapes. As I fell asleep that night, I could always hear the sound of exploding fireworks in the distance as the holiday slowly passed until the next year.

“For me, those wonderful evenings were as much about summer and togetherness as they were a celebration of our nation’s independence. Now that I have a family, I try to rekindle some of those old traditions, while starting new ones of our own.”

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