Many talented and dedicated women grace the Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) with a commitment to serving the community and helping other women reach their full potential. Among those women are a few who dedicate their lives to service in JLNO and beyond. Such women continue service through the League even after transitioning from an active member to a sustainer—someone who has retired from League obligations while maintaining membership and volunteer status. More importantly, those women impart a lasting effect on society by continuing their tireless efforts to advance community development and other acts of humanitarianism. Here at the Junior League of New Orleans, we recognize those women with a nomination for Sustainer of the Year. Thereafter, fellow sustainers cast a vote to select the year’s honoree.
Mrs. Julia Bland, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee and long-time member of JLNO, has been selected as this year’s Sustainer of the Year. When asked to reflect on her decision to become a member of the Junior League, Julia, the daughter of a former League member, vividly recalls her childhood. She remembers how her mother would load meals into the back of their station wagon and how she would go along for the ride as those meals were distributed to persons in need throughout the city.
Voluntarism has since become a way of life for Julia. Having served JLNO in various capacities over the last couple of decades, her most memorable assignment was serving on the Executive Committee. There, she was thrilled to join a team of women who set the trajectory for the future of JLNO. Further, Julia was able to offer her expertise as a professional administrator, as well as to gain new skills.
From that experience, she offers the following guidance to newly accepted JLNO members (Provisionals): “What you gain (as a member of JLNO) is proportionate to that which you invest into your League commitment,” Julia says. “It is important to take advantage of the opportunity to be trained in many different ways. That is the beauty of JLNO…consider the experience as a time of continuing education through people who know more than you. It’s the sum of the parts that add up to the meaningful result.”
As a sustainer, Julia Bland remains connected to JLNO through her discussions and initiatives addressing climate and global issues, as well as research for books, sustainable gardening, monthly socials and League business gatherings. She expresses a fond appreciation for the gardening club and maintaining a social network with other JLNO members. Her advice to active members transitioning to sustainer status is to reflect on the training provided by JLNO and to use it in everyday life. From corporate America to nonprofits and even personal hobbies, she encourages members to think of the resources and information gained and to understand that there is still room for personal and professional expansion.
Continuing her own growth and staying engaged is of vital importance to Julia, as evidenced by her busy schedule.
Alice Wright, JLNO’s Sustainer of the Year Committee Chair, says, “The surprise visit to tell Julia she was being honored as the JLNO Sustainer of the Year had to be rescheduled three times because of Julia’s hectic schedule. Her husband, Will, had to keep the secret and to keep changing the date. The ploy he used to get her home by 5:30 was a visit from her three grandsons…and she couldn’t pass that up!”
Julia currently serves as director of the Louisiana Children’s Museum and has been pivotal in the expansion of the museum into a globally unprecedented state-of-the-art children’s museum. She credits her experiences as an active member for providing her with the tools and learning experiences required to make the expansion possible. Julia expresses a sense of honor and excitement as JLNO’s newly elected Sustainer of the Year; nonetheless, she believes it was her contribution to society and that which she does within and for the community as the basis for being selected.
“Having second graders tell me that they would like to become an engineer or a scientist because of their experience at the museum is the greater reward,” Julia says. “Even having adults in their twenties and thirties discuss how the museum has impacted their life’s journeys and the trajectory of their careers.”
Julia has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Young Leadership Council’s Role Model Award, the St. Elizabeth’s Role Model Award, the YMCA Role Model Award and one of three City Business Woman of the Year Awards. She has been recognized in her hometown as the Outstanding Alumna of Year from the Webb School of Knoxville, and she has been honored nationally with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service—an award presented by Michele Obama at the White House in recognition of service to the community and the nation. Julia was also invited by President Bush as one of 15 community leaders to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Well regarded within the community, Julia has received many letters of support for her current honor.
“Julia, with her passion for and her dedication to the early development of children beyond the walls of the Louisiana Children’s Museum, has been an active and vital participant in an early childhood coalition,” one supporter wrote. “Together with an impressive network of people and organizations, she has consistently championed access to and public funding for quality childcare in our community. Her voice has been critical to successfully securing funding, including a 1:1 match from the state to cover the cost of child care for many low income residents. It seems when Julia speaks, politicians listen.”
Julia and her husband Will, an attorney, have three sons: Will, Webb and John. She is “Gran” to Wilton, Ford and Robert.