Partnering with other non-profit organizations in the community is just one of the ways the Junior League of New Orleans trains and influences its members to be effective advocates. JLNO’s Strategic Partnerships Committee joined forces with the United Way of Southeast Louisiana to present the topic of advocacy to JLNO volunteers and educate them on how to become better advocates.

One of the goals of JLNO’s Strategic Partnerships Committee is to strengthen JLNO’s relationships with key non-profits in the community. “United Way is the first organization JLNO is partnering with to provide advocacy training to League members. Effective advocacy involves broad coalitions of community organizations. JLNO expects to be involved with additional organizations in the future,” said 2015-16 Planning & Development Council Director Blair duQuesnay. “United Way was an obvious partner in JLNO’s advocacy efforts as United Way has vast resources available and the experience to educate and inspire volunteers on public policy issues facing the communities in which we live,” said Active Leigh Thorpe, Strategic Partnerships Committee Chair.

On May 18, 2016, League members and all interested volunteers met at JLNO Headquarters to learn about advocacy, the public policy issues impacting the community at large and how to become better advocates for those issues. Charmaine Caccioppi, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, and Kim Sport, United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s Public Policy Chairman, delivered an educational evening bringing the importance of advocacy to the forefront.

Charmaine and Kim shared ways JLNO members may use resources available to them to initiate tremendous change. Charmaine and Kim explained the key roles non-profits and organizations play in shedding light on public policy issues plaguing the community and how each is able to explore the resources available to them and advance an agenda. “One key aspect is the importance of organizations such as the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and JLNO partnering together and pooling resources to identify political topics and concerns as one coalition, and to work together,” said Kim.

For example, JLNO’s Diaper Bank has been set up to assist families that cannot provide diapers for their children due to impoverished circumstances. Up until JLNO took the initiative, there were no government programs providing diapers to families in need. One of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s biggest public policy initiatives is early childhood education. As Leigh explained, “JLNO’s Diaper Bank and United Way’s early childhood education initiatives go hand in hand in that if families are unable to provide basic necessities for their children, such as diapers, there is no way these same children will be fully prepared to enter school and early children education programs.” Thus, partnerships among organizations and non-profits in the community are crucial to attacking these major public policy concerns.

Why and How to Advocate:  Why and How to Advocate:
LEFT: JLNO members attend League Day at the Capitol. From left to right: Kimberly Allen, State Rep. Julie Stokes, Blair duQuesnay, Nancy Kirkeby, Mary Huxen, State Sen. Ronnie Johns and Jennifer Grigsby. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Allen RIGHT: Left to right UW of  SELA  Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Charmaine Caccioppi and UW of SELA Public Policy Chairman Kim Sport. Photo by Jessica Bachmann

As Chair of Strategic Partnerships, Leigh introduced United Way’s Public Policy Chair and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer to JLNO to embark on the partnership this year. According to Leigh, “the first step JLNO is taking moving forward will be hosting this training on advocacy and how to get involved with Public Policy and Advocacy. It is important to share information from the ALICE Report, which helped guide United Way’s Public Policy Agenda for 2016. It shows League members how they can advocate on behalf of issues they care about and invite any interested members to receive information in the future about United Way’s various Public Policy agenda items, such as expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, domestic violence legislation, early childhood education funding, as well as others.”

United Way’s ALICE Report, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, has become a key component in targeting areas of need in the community and uncovering avenues that JLNO may focus their efforts on to provide resources and strengthen the community overall. The ALICE Report was released in January 2016 and includes information on a huge number of citizens in the state of Louisiana who are technically living above the poverty line but remain unable to afford basic necessities.

“Education is the first step in advocacy, and advocacy is often misunderstood. Advocates trained with the right infor-mation will be much more effective in the community,” said Blair. “The United Way ALICE Report has a vast amount of information about the citizens of Louisiana who are working yet struggling and living paycheck to paycheck. This is powerful information for our members to have as we consider issues the JLNO will support through advocacy efforts.”

According to Charmaine, “it is important to never underestimate yourself and your life experiences. You never know when your life experiences may add input and be a resource in advocating for your community,” she said. “Volunteers are able to use whatever talents they may have to make a difference such as providing research on certain public policy initiatives and advocating on Capitol Hill to state legislative leaders.”

As Leigh explained, it was important for JLNO to invite the leaders of United Way to share the many levels of engagement one may become involved with in the advocacy process. First, Charmaine and Kim provided a forum through JLNO to bring a large group of strong, powerful, influential women united together to effect change in their community. Second, the volunteers were given the tools and resources needed to advocate. Third, opportunities were presented for volunteers to become advocacy volunteers and perform various levels of research on public policy initiatives. “I came to this event hoping to learn how to better advocate for those whose voices are often not heard and to learn more about the specific struggles they face daily,” said Active member Amanda Gammon. Active Claire Delerno was also eager to participate in the advocacy training. “Learning to be a better advocate will help us as League members push initiatives and will provide powerful information for advocating for JLNO’s Diaper Bank,” she said.

Overall, JLNO members were encouraged to find and select various issues they themselves are passionate about and how each may take that passion and set public policy initiatives into motion. Strengthening advocacy skills is just one of the many ways JLNO and its members are dedicated to improving the community and providing key resources to those in need.