Whether you are new to the city or a New Orleans native, there most certainly is no shortage of opportunities to meet other like-minded individuals while also giving back. Through membership in charitable organizations, community service groups, social organizations and the like, not only do you increase your network of friends, but you also learn what it really means to be a part of a team while directly having a hand in your city’s growth.

The Young Leadership Council, which formed in 1986, is the oldest independent young professionals’ organization in the country. Started as a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic organization, their mission is to build leadership through service with a focus on initiatives that work to improve overall quality of life in Greater New Orleans. Areas of service include arts and culture, beautification, youth enrichment and education, and economic development. Since its formation,  YLC has raised more than $25 million to support their efforts. Crave a mid-week reprieve to help with those office blues? YLC’s Wednesday at the Square, a free, 12-week concert series that raises funds through food and drink sales, is just what you need to feel reinvigorated midweek.

Maybe you’ve often wondered what exactly a philanthropist does, or maybe you’ve always known you wanted to donate your time and money to a cause but never knew quite where to start. The Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, which first formed in 2008 as the nine-member “Young Professional Giving Circle” Steering Committee, can help with that. “EPNO does a great job of bringing a very diverse group of young professionals together – different ages, professions, ethnicities, some originally from New Orleans and some from elsewhere – who all share a love for this great city and a commitment to give both their time and money to making it even better,” said EPNO board member and alumnus Jonathan Levy. It currently boasts more than 200 class members and alumni who have collectively donated more than $200,000 to various nonprofits with focus areas ranging from youth development to housing and more. Marketed as a “high-engagement 6-month experience,” members join a team targeting an issue of interest. Each team then works to pool their resources together with outside sponsorships. It is then, once the funds are combined, that members learn the basics of grant making from experts through sessions such as “Grantmaking 101.” What follows is a hands-on, multi-faceted experience where members are directly involved with deciding where their funds go while also cultivating their personal growth.

“EPNO exposed me to sides of New Orleans that I think I never would have known otherwise- from people who work in completely different fields from my own to small and medium nonprofits helping to build and strengthen New Orleans,” said Jonathan. “It was a completely eye opening experience every step of the way.”

What if you own a local business and increased community development and growth are what you seek? There are organizations for you too. “Being a part of regional chambers of commerce like the New Orleans and St. Bernard Chambers have given me a platform to support economic development while networking for my own business,” said Mindy Nunez Airhart, owner of St. Bernard-based steel fabrication company Southern Services and Equipment, Inc. “Over the past couple of years, I’ve also developed some really great friendships as well.” The New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, founded in 2004, provides opportunities and resources through networking events, education seminars and advocacy that help enable businesses to prosper.

Mindy is also a board member of the New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute. Forming in 1988 as a task force that included representatives of the Metropolitan Area Committee, Young Leadership Council, Jefferson Leadership Institute, Leadership Slidell, West St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Louisiana, their mission is to promote regional cooperation and collaboration. To achieve this, NORLI brings together 40 new members a year from business, nonprofit and governmental sectors from throughout the local regions. “It is a real leadership incubator, and I have met some fantastic people that I would have never met otherwise,” said Mindy. NORLI is an educational program providing emerging leaders with a thought-provoking, year-long curriculum that works to enhance their ability to collaborate. With so many influential movers and shakers together in one organization, what results is a more thorough understanding of issues and a greater move toward teaming up for the greater good of the community.

Last but not least, what New Orleans social scene list would be complete without a nod to the most grandiose of all gatherings our city has to offer? That’s right, Mardi Gras! Whether you are a member of one of the more than 50 parade Krewes and you aspire for the crown your great aunt wore years before you, or you are a member of a walking or dance Krewe, participation in such organizations always translates into countless social events leading up to the main event.

Making ConnectionsMaking Connections
Making Connections
TOP LEFT: Muses riders Courtney Guste, Julie Danna and Ayame Dinkler manage to take a quick break from throwing for a quick photo-op. Photo provided by: Courtney Guste TOP RIGHT: EPNO class of 2016 members congregate. Photo provided by: Chandler Nutik BOTTOM: Members of NORLI pose in front of the City Sightseeing bus following a public policy session held at the Basin St. Station. Photo provided by: Mindy Nunez Airhart

The Krewe of Muses, which made its debut in 2001, was the first all-female organization to parade at night in Uptown New Orleans. This famed and difficult to join Mardi Gras organization is now more than 1,000 members strong and needs no further introduction. We’ve all made it our modus operandi to catch a highly coveted shoe, and some of us have even reveled in all its glory as others sorely and enviously look on until the next one is flashed. But what is it like being on the other side?  

“I can honestly say that the thrill of riding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Courtney Guste, Muses member for eight years and a “riding member” for the past four. “You will never understand it until you have ridden in a parade on St. Charles Avenue. To ride in an uptown parade should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.”  

“I have gotten to know so many people through Muses,” said Krewe member Maria Pardo Huete, current President of JLNO. “It is also the one thing my best friend and I get to do that is just us letting our hair down and having a good time together.”

Newer to the city and want to test the waters a bit before auditioning for the all-male 610 Stompers or vying for a spot on the Pussyfooter’s all-female dance Krewe? As a parade-goer, your favorite spot on the route and side of the street will be determined well before Muses Thursday and most certainly by Thoth and Bacchus Sunday. By then you also will have slowly but surely amassed a small village made up of your closest friends, their families and their family members’ closest friends, because hey, your spot is the best, right?! Then, for every year thereafter, you will all come together again and realize why you started in the first place, and in case you were wondering, no, it never gets old! Not to be labeled as all fun and games, this infamous carnival known the world over just so happens to generate more than $465 million to the New Orleans economy. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

Leadership, intrapersonal skills, selflessness and commitment to your community are the intangibles that are gained through the various organizations our city has to offer, and you will undoubtedly have some Mardi Gras magic sprinkled in along the way. The intense personal growth to be experienced on every level will enrich your path in life – Mardi Gras masks optional. So, what are you waiting for? Jump in already!