In this third episode of COVID Conversations, UNLV Urban Leadership graduate student, Frankie Andres, interviews Missy Arendash, a new member of the Junior League of Las Vegas. Junior League of Las Vegas (JLLV) has been instrumental in transforming the Las Vegas community for 75 years. JLLV has contributed over 1.1 million hours of community service and raised more $1.5 million dollars for the community through service projects and monetary support. The organization is made up of more than 500 exciting and diverse women. The core of JLLV's mission is volunteerism with a focus on making an impact on youth ages 12 and over in the areas of homelessness, education and overall health and wellness. Some of their many projects include a partnership with the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, Ronald McDonald House, Holiday Bear project, and the Little Black Dress initiative. To learn more, visit jllv.org
COVID-19 presented a unique set of challenges for the nonprofit industry -- funding interruptions, increased demand for services, pivot to virtual platforms, safety concerns and more have impacted some nonprofits' ability to push their missions forward. Through our podcast, COVID Conversations: An Introspective of the Impact on Nonprofits, we present interviews of individuals representing an array of nonprofit organizations. We believe the information from these organizations further provides an illuminating picture of the depth and scale of the impact of the pandemic on the nonprofit sector.
Hello and welcome again to COVID Conversations, an introspective of the impact on nonprofits. In today's episode, we'll learn more about the Junior League of Las Vegas, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote volunteerism, develop the potential of women, and improve the community through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. The Junior League of Las Vegas serves the entire Southern Valley area of Nevada. Let's learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted this organization.
Yeah, my name is Missy Arondash, and I'm actually currently a new member of this organization, which is the Junior League of Las Vegas. So currently still a new member, going to be becoming active here in May, and we'll be chairing this coming year. But right now still just a provisional member is what they call us.
Oh, great, great.
How long have you been associated with the organization?
Yes, so I'm very familiar with Junior League as it is a national organization that has been around since the 40s and it does amazing work. But I actually had not had the opportunity to join just with work and life and the balance of it all. So I took this time during the COVID pause, if you will, to join this wonderful organization. So I joined as a new member in August. Junior League of Las Vegas is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. We welcome all women who value our mission. And so that's something we really like to emphasize is trained volunteers. We are not just an organization that just shows up and we're kind of random. We really give back to the community through the women and this collective group that have focused in on themselves and have trained through the year to make sure that they're well-versed, they understand why they're giving back and what this community needs and what that organization is providing. But the area of focus for kind of our chapter right now, it does kind of change every couple years we reassess, but right now the main area of focus is to make an impact on the youth of ages 12 and over in areas of education and overall health and wellness within the community. And so we do that by really getting involved in the fundamental organizations of Help of Southern Nevada, the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, Discovery Children's Museum, the Shade Tree Women's Shelter, and the Ronald McDonald House. This is our 75th anniversary as an organization this year, Junior League. And so we were very instrumental in even bringing the Ronald McDonald House to Las Vegas. And so there's some organizations that we really help and have a critical part in from the beginning and the inception of that organization. But then once they have kind of gotten their feet under themselves and really, we try to let them go on their own. So the Ronald McDonald House used to fall under Junior League and then we helped them and we got them in a really good spot and we're like, okay, now it's your organization. And when we kind of take a step back, we still do volunteer shifts there all the time, but it definitely is something that it's like, no, let them be them now. And the area of focus now is really the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center. Junior League was critical in the development and the building of that facility, which is wonderful. It's a youth center for our homeless population of kids in the Valley, which is so unfortunate that we even have to talk about that, but the numbers are astronomical. And it's a wonderful, wonderful facility. And we actually go in there and do different trainings. We help them with interview skills and just like the how to be an adult, basically 101, as well as go into the kitchen and really prepare meals for them. Similar to that, that experience with the Ronald McDonald house, but this one is specifically for homeless youth, you know, and so we go in and we prepare meals and we have, you know, sometimes just recently, right, we had a Valentine's party because February obviously had Valentine's Day. So we made sure, you know, all the league members got together and made sure there was Valentine's boxes and candy and some decorations. And we donated that. And then there was a crew that went in and helped set that up to make it a really nice experience for them. Because those are things that those youth don't get. You know, they don't get holidays, they don't get that fun experience. So we really try to make an impact where we can. And one of my favorite projects that we've worked on is the Adopt-A-Bear project, which is a junior league staple. And we, you know, go into the school systems and we find the students that might not have the opportunity to have a great holiday at the Christmas and season and whatever holiday that might be. You know, it could be Hanukkah or others. But we still want to make sure that they're getting a wonderful experience that they might not get. And so we adopt a child, basically. You can sign up and we call them bears because they normally, they used to always get like a stuffed teddy bear with it, but now the toys have advanced. Time has gone on a bear is not cutting it anymore. Something like Minecraft. I don't know. That's what my kid wanted. I'm not sure. But you know, so they give you a list and you have 10 things and the main thing that you always have to make sure that you are giving the kids for the holidays is a book. That's one thing that we're really proud of and want to make sure that they always get gifted a book that is age appropriate, of course. And so you get the age, you get the shirt sizes, the pants, the shoes, and so each child gets 10 gifts. And it's underwear, it's socks, it's the essential, the coat, or a sweatshirt. And then as well as two toys, and a book. And that's, that's what is really important to us, because that education component is still going to be huge. And we even work with UNLV, and help with educational grants and making sure that there's scholarships and stuff. So, I mean, there's a vast area of where we give back. And then there's things that we just do, we call it done in a day. It's a shift that we might have found an organization in the community that needed help, but it might not be a huge help. It might just be for that one day that we can make an impact. And so we have that opportunity available, too. So we definitely have little pop-up experiences, but I would say the main area is that youth 12 and over kind of making sure that they're not getting forgotten.
Well, I mean, you've gone through a litany of opportunities in a quick two, three minutes still here, but it sounds like incredible work. So it makes me wonder to what extent has the pandemic impacted your organization's services or, you know, your great work? Are you able to continue doing services that, in these projects that you've been doing for years? Have you kind of like just been operating same as usual? Or have your services been, you know, severely impacted or inhibited? Give us kind of like an idea of what the pandemic has done.
Right, and so definitely has been modified, right? We are trying to still do the most because we know that this is definitely still a time of need, maybe a greater time of need, but some of these organizations, you know, with the protocols and the guidelines, we want to make sure we're being safe for not only the organizations that we're benefiting, but our own members, too, right? We don't want to ever put one of our members in harm's way. So definitely the volunteer opportunities have been impacted. There is less shift for sure across the board for us to help volunteer with because those organizations just aren't taking in the help because they might have an internal smaller crew that's doing it that they can keep it contained. If there is a shift, a lot of them have been outside. We've been still trying to do a lot of work but doing outside things. So drive through food distribution events, right, in collaboration with Three Square, which is one of our huge partners that we work really intimately with. And so we'll have, you know, different pop-up drive-through events. You know, a Saturday morning, us league members are out there, you know, having the food dropped off by Three Square, and they pull up with their car, they pop open the trunk, and we load it in, and then we say, okay, you're good to go, so that that's distant in, and we're still trying to make an impact though, because we know the need's still there. People are definitely still hungry right now, and so we're still trying to make the difference. So it's definitely been impacted there. Shannon West, right? We love going in there as an organization and helping them out, but that's been very limited. We haven't been able to necessarily go in and help prepare the meals. So more of a drop-off mentality and that kind of thing. So it's restrictive and we want to make sure that we're being careful for everyone. We want to be out there, trust me. And the other league members I talk to, we want to give back as much as we can. But I will say as an impact of our organization as a whole too, I mean, there's a lot of league members that are unsure, are feeling uncomfortable. Maybe I'm not going to go out. And we respect that, obviously, right? You want to you want to make sure everyone's comfortable and feeling, feeling good. And so there's, there's definitely been some members that have just like, I'm going to take a step back, this is not what I signed up for. And that is a new challenge that we're facing in how do we retain the members that we want to have.
All of those volunteer driven type organizations are experiencing the same thing. It's not just, you know, going in and making sure your clients or those that you're helping are safe, but you're thinking of yourself as well. Especially those with, you know, families at home, you don't want to risk bringing anything home, or if you have members or volunteers that have their own underlying health conditions.
Absolutely. You never know people's situations, and there's a lot of things that you can't tell by just looking at someone, right? So you don't want to make any judgments, and so we respect that. And so that is one thing that I would say that's been, you know, our services have definitely been modified, our shifts are limited and not as, you know, bountiful, but we've changed areas, and we've never had as much engagement at a general members meeting than we have now that we've converted to a Zoom meeting, right? And so we're having higher attendance and more engagement in that aspect because they're able to maybe prepare dinner still but have it on in the background, or they're working late and they're still doing something, so there's an opportunity there. So I can't say that it's been all bad. And again, I'm a very different perspective, right? As a new member. So I've only seen this side of it. And I think they've done a phenomenal job of trying to still keep the engagement with the members and try to uplift people's spirits and give them opportunities, but yet still, you know, try to keep the business moving because we actually had to cancel our gala. Our gala always takes place, traditionally it takes place in April. And so last year, 2020, April, I mean, the world was locked down, right? So we definitely couldn't have it there. And that's our largest fundraiser as an organization. And so that was impactful. But again, it's one of those, you know, you've modified your services, you've modified your experiences. So there's not as much overhead. So I'm not sure if the budget has been greatly impacted. I think it's just, it wasn't as, you know, fruitful as a normal year, but we've been able to kind of still keep business as usual in that aspect from my understanding and what they've communicated to us.
So as your organization continues to manage the impact of the pandemic and the plans, planning for the future, what do you believe would be a top challenge area or where you would need to pivot most, you know, as you continue to, you know, bring back, you know, kind of like I hate to say return to normal, it's such a cliche, but right, you move back to pre-pandemic, you know, what do you think will be the top challenge areas
to get back going? It's a great question. It's something I've actually been focusing a lot of my time on, even though I'm a new member, like I said, I'm gonna be chairing a committee here this coming year, and that committee is membership development, which I think is gonna be huge for us right now, and it's an area that me and the vice president and president-elect have been working pretty intimately on of refocusing our membership and making sure, trying to retain those members, and almost, we've been able to kind of keep the wheels on the bus in regards to still having shifts available, still being able to volunteer and have some sort of impact. The area that is missing of the great organization is that kind of social component or that personal feeling, right, of seeing one of your dear friends that, you know, in league with you and being able to have that conversation while you're doing something or going down to the house for a mixer or a committee meeting because everything's been on Zoom. And so that personal touch and that area is something that's gonna be a challenge for us, is trying to get it to that feeling of that close group of women working together, but yet still having kind of a fun element to it and that social component. That's something that we're gonna be trying to focus our time and effort on is bringing that component back. The answer right now, or what we've kind of been talking about is a hybrid model, right? You know, potentially still offering that virtual, that Zoom meeting or doing some, you know, every other month fully virtual, right? But then having, you know, the next month have maybe, you know, once we're in a safe place to do, to have that kind of social component. Because that was the thing is like our general body meetings used to have at least a 30-minute mixer prior to, right? You know, you'd be able to come together, hang out, depending at the venue. We like to switch up the venue, so sometimes we were frequenting a small business and trying to give them some love and having that mixer component, and then we would move into our business meeting, but that would only be, you know, a part of it, right, an hour tops, right, of getting through the agenda, and then potentially hanging out afterwards again. And so that component is what's missing right now, but you're right, we've had the best attendance at our meetings since they've been virtual. So exactly, it's at what expense is it that we're, you know, we're getting great numbers, the attendance quorum is looking great, right? But when it comes to that feeling of we're in this together and we joined because of this one reason too, it wasn't, a lot of us, you know, we always wanna give back and that's why we joined the organization, right? The mission is volunteering and such. But also, I mean, we're personal, you know, we're people, we want to be around like-minded individuals and have that opportunity because sometimes you don't find that, right? Las Vegas is a hard community to find a network. And once you find them, you know, you have a like commonality of like, I want to give back to this community. All right, great. We have one thing in common already. What else do we have in common? It creates an opportunity to really expand those relationships. And right now, we don't really have that because there is no free time really on the Zoom. It's business, right? The moment it kind of pops on, all right, drop your name in the chat for attendance. Let's get to it. And it's like that social component is definitely out. So I think that's going to be our top challenge. Fundraising, we've had some really unique opportunities this year with fundraising and people are still being pretty generous So I don't think that's going to be the big issue It's really just going to be retaining members and bringing back that that warm feeling. We're in this together
Well, you bring up you bring up fundraising and that's a good segue to my next question So, you know your effort your gala effort took a hit and you weren't able to do it but other than the gala, you know, do you believe the what other impacts will your organization face as it as it relates to COVID-19 on your your future fundraising efforts? I know you did a little virtual event, which was great.
Yeah, so great question. One first topic to go over is gala you kind of mentioned that one first, we did have to cancel last year. This year we are trying to conduct it in a virtual space. That is a shift we've tried to make, right? We were trying to do it in person this year, but it just didn't seem to be in the cards for us, the way the restrictions were happening. And then just some of the overhead too, honestly, that I'm actually sitting on the GALA committee right now as a new member. And so I've definitely learned a lot about it. It is our largest fundraiser as an organization, traditionally upwards in the $100,000 kind of range of revenue, at least. I think it might even be a little north of that. Last year, we didn't have it at all. Some of the sponsors were able to carry over and they were like, no, some were like, just turn it into a donation. They were very generous. And so there's been some shifts there and we're trying to do the best we can considering the circumstances. So we do have tickets and we're going to have you know the link to watch virtually. We're doing little deliveries with like a swag bag of juniorly because it's our 75th which is kind of a bummer right? It's like our 75th anniversary was going to be this beautiful huge thing and now you know it's in that virtual space but I think it's going to be, we're actually also for the VIP ticket holders, they're getting a like a charcuterie platter delivered to their home and, and, you know, trying to make it an experience for telling them that, you know, get sign up, get your tickets and have a little watch party, maybe that's safe and socially distanced with your network. So that is something we're trying to do. Is it going to yield as much? No, definitely not, you know, individual ticket sales, VIP table sponsorships, that's all going to be great. And our silent auction at the event is normally very robust and produces a lot of money for us. But unfortunately, we are doing a silent auction still. It's going to be virtual. We're working with an organization to help us produce that. But I will say that the actual silent auction donations are not coming in as they normally would, right? Just like you said, other businesses have been impacted as well. So they're not as inclined to donate, you know, that that that night stay, you know, making a staycation or, you know, a different opportunity, you know, a golf for some. Golf actually is an industry that's not hurting too much right now. It's outdoors, pretty safe, socially distanced. you know, where you're kind of doing it on your own, but you're counting for the tournament. I mean, there's definitely some opportunities with golf, but with that being said, they're not one to be like, oh yeah, here's a foursome that I'm just gonna donate to you because I don't need to donate it right now. I'm having great business.
I'm really, you know, well off.
So there's that situation. So our sale and auction isn't as robust as it normally is with this offering. We normally have some really cool things from my understanding and this year it's not quite, you know, but we're hoping that people will be generous there. So that's that's kind of gala. Galas are hard, I think, in general, personally, not every junior league chapter does a gala. They're not for everyone, right? There's some, you know, talks, especially now that we've gone a year without, and now we're doing this virtual, like, what does gala look like in 2022, right? So we're not sure, you know, what that, what that means. And so I know it's a huge thing for our sustaining members, which is the status you can take once you've been in league for a longer period of time. I think it's after seven years, you could go sustainer is what we call it. It's like another level of membership and it's a reduced level of membership. You're kind of membership adjacent, right? You still participating, but you might be kind of not as engaged, right? Your requirements aren't as high, right? You're kind of watching from afar and you'll come to the things that you choose to. And so one of the things the Sustainers, from my understanding, love is GALA. And so we appreciate that. So that's definitely something that's being talked about. It's like you said, not everyone loves a GALA. And I will say that from what I'm understanding, the more members I talk to, a lot of the active don't, it almost just feels like more work. And they, you know, what costs, right? Is there enough of a return? And so that's definitely something that we're looking at. And again, with this pause, with this opportunity, it's something that you can genuinely assess. So we'll see come next month, right? How we kind of do, what shakes out from it. But you also brought up the Little Black Dress Initiative, which is something that I loved and was very passionate about. It is something that the national organization has kind of done. There's several chapters that do the Little Black Dress Initiative, but again, it's benefiting potentially different things. I know the city I used to live in, they just had their Little Black Dress Initiative last week, and theirs was really to help with a diaper shortage. A lot of the money they were raising was for moms in need that need those facilities. But for us, again, it was focusing on the youth, right? And especially we have a lot of homeless youth. And so what the Little Black Dress Initiative is, is to raise awareness of poverty. And really it's called the Little Black Dress because us league members wore the same black dress for five days straight. To raise that awareness of not everyone has the ability to change their wardrobe every single day. Poverty is real, especially in Las Vegas. And there's some people that are just a paycheck or two away from being homeless or having a huge impact. So out of the nearly 2.7 million residents of the Las Vegas area, 16% live below the poverty line, a family of four, the poverty line is about 56,000. And that's one in six people, basically, 432,000. I pulled up some of the statistics here from our campaign just so I could give you some real time numbers. I think that's gonna show you more of an impact. 129,000 children living below the poverty line in Las Vegas. I mean, it's just these numbers are crazy. Yeah. One in five are food insecure. One in three kids are, you know, it's just, it's crazy. And so that was what we did was we wanted to make sure that we're raising awareness and raising funds to help them. So this is the first time we've ever done it. We've talked about it because we've seen other leagues do it. But again, it was kind of like, let's give it a good try. It's a virtual digital philanthropy campaign. So there's no real restrictions there. You don't have to wear a little black dress. It could be a little black outfit of any sorts. We know that not everyone likes dresses, but the idea was to wear the same look every day. You could spice it up with accessories, but we had little buttons that said, ask me about my dress. And so.
I thought the awareness piece of it was so, like, it was so eye opening. And so that's what stood out to me when you sent the link and had the staff, some of the staffs on your page. That's what spoke volumes to me, because again, being a fairly newcomer to the city, I just had no idea. I mean, of course, I know poverty exists in any urban city, but again, to the extent of what it is here was just astounding. Most people think of Las Vegas, they think of the lights, they think of, you know, the strip and glitz and glam, etc. But I don't think any organization had ever put a spotlight on this is what poverty looks like here in Las Vegas and how right now like the stats were laid
out on your page so absolutely I mean Las Vegas has the second highest rate of unsheltered unaccompanied youth in the nation in the nation we are the second highest that's not a good thing to be in the top five of I know you we want that for the experiences on the strip we want to be you know top top five NHL experiences or whatever it may be. We don't want to be there for homeless youth, right? The kids that don't have the choice. And so this was a great campaign. We'd never done it. We were like unsure. I mean, it's still the middle of a pandemic. Are people going to donate? Are they going to be philanthropic? And, you know, we had us sign up and try to create different pages. And thank you again for donating to my page and my cause. And we ended up raising over $23,000 in a week. That's incredible. Which is incredible, and it's going to go directly back to the community and really help make a difference there. And so for us never doing it, for us to be in the middle of a pandemic, like we see this and we're like, wow, the potential this has, how exciting it is. We already have ideas for next year, right? You know, how do we do this? What do we do here? How do we engage more on social media, right? And then just an annual appeal. We've never really done an annual appeal, and that's something that we're focusing on. This is the first year we've done just an annual appeal to our members and to their network. So that's what we're focusing on as an organization, is showing that impact, telling our story more, which I think a lot of organizations are doing on a national level, right? They've all kind of seen this opportunity to take one step back, assess the situation. And we might've been doing it the one way and that might've been status quo, but how do we amp it up? How do we get to the next level? 1% better, right? You know?
Yeah. Well, Missy, you have certainly answered so many of my questions. Before we wrap up our conversation today. I must admit your organization does incredible work. Would you like to share with the listening audience how they can learn more or support the Las Vegas Junior League effort?
Absolutely. It's very easy. You could just go to JLLV.org and you'll find out all of our information. There's a donate button at the top. There's a join button at the top. It lists all of the different things we're a part of. So it's very simple. Just JLLV.org. I recommend it highly. So I think everyone should have some sort of engagement in it. And, you know, we're going to be amping up here. We're going to be doing more events. We're going to be doing more programs. And hopefully, as restrictions lighten, we're going to be out there, and you're going to see us now. You're going to be a little bit more aware. We actually got to light up the Las Vegas sign red in honor of our 75th anniversary in February. So there's some cool photos out there too if you search us. Which was a nice, we all wore red and took some photos in front of it. So it was a pretty fun experience. And some of the marquees even lit up for us on the strip, which was pretty cool to celebrate our 75th anniversary. So more to come. We've been doing it for 75 years. We don't plan on stopping now. So definitely check out JLLV.org Well, thank you again, Missy Arondash with the Las Vegas Junior League chapter. I appreciate your time with me today Again, if you need more information about the Junior League Las Vegas, it's JLLV.org We appreciate Missy Arondash with the Junior League of Las Vegas for joining us today. As we continue to learn how nonprofits have been impacted, we certainly wish them much success in the months and years ahead. Thank you for listening to COVID Conversations, an introspective of the impact on nonprofits. In our next episode, you'll hear from the Nevada Diabetes Association. It's sure to be another enlightening conversation.
Until next time, thank you for listening. Until next time, thank you for listening. conversation. Until next time, thank you for listening.