It’s a soggy Sunday afternoon in Newport- a rarity in these parts. As an Active Member of the Historian Committee, it is my pleasure to spend the afternoon conducting a “Sustainer Spotlight” interview. With my windshield wipers on overdrive, I drive down to the cozy Starbucks on PCH and Bayside, the spot we have designated to meet. As a Seattle native, Starbucks has been in my blood since Junior High, so I am happy that is where our Sustainer chose to meet. I open my car door and dart in, indulging in a Grande Carmel Macchiato, then settling in to do a final review of my questions. I am meeting up with Carin Adler, a Sustainer who has been part of JLOCC since the 1990’s. Her career with the League, spanning multiple decades, is fascinating to me and I can’t wait to meet her. A few minutes later she walks through the door, as stylish and sweet as could be. I envy her adorable bob haircut and we instantly start chatting like old friends. Meet Carin!
Rachel: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Carin: Well, what would you like to know? I’m married and I have one VERY spoiled dog, a soft coated wheaten terrier who doesn’t know she’s a dog!
Rachel: How did you originally hear about Junior League?
Carin: Through friends out of Orange County, they were members in Los Angeles and Riverside.
Rachel: When you joined the league in the 1990’s, did they have different application procedures?
Carin: I didn’t have to have a referral but I do recall I had to contact the League office and tell them I was interested. I moved down to the area in 1992 and I had called the office that time. Evidently my message got lost, and they told me I had missed the recruitment period for that year. I contacted them in 1992 but didn’t become a part of the process until 1993 or 1994. We didn’t have to have letters of recommendation; we just had to go through the provisional process. You just had to make sure you did what you had to do. Back then our spring fundraiser was the Monte Carlo night- it was phenomenal! I received my 20 year pin a couple of years ago, which was really special.
Rachel: Through the years you have held various and diverse League roles. What has been your favorite to date?
Carin: Each role that I held taught me different things. My very first placement was with Monte Carlo night. We were figuring out how to get donations, putting the auction baskets together and coordinating the setup. I was also on a committee called Corporate Contributions. I had never dealt with sales before, my background was in risk management and workers comp. I was used to being behind the scenes. Actually having to do cold calls was brand new to me and really stretched my abilities. A lot of people are really fearful of calling people and asking for money. Elise Hartman was in charge of that committee. She sat down and talked to me in terms of ”this is what you do”; We sent letters, but follow up phone calls make the difference. She taught me a lot and that helped alleviate my fear. I was in charge of the different League items- like the League store. Or our symbol is the anchor- Cookie Lee had put together a design of a pin that had been used years ago (she’s a sustainer). My committee contacted her and we re-instated that pin, it was this big (holds hand to symbolize a quarter) with Swarovski crystals. The board was attending the AJLI conference. They called me in the middle of the conference week and said people loved our pins and wanted to buy them. They asked if I could get them more pins that week! FedEx was just coming about then, so we coordinated quickly FedExing the pins. They received them the next morning before 10 AM. I remember that was a significant team effort. That was using your resources and working together, and we sold out of all of our pins and made the league money.
That’s kind of a brief synopsis. When I was on the nominating committee that was a big deal for me in terms of helping choose future leaders. I was also on the scholarship committee- being in charge of scholarships and grants. Reading these scholarships and awarding them at our big annual meeting- it’s been quite an experience. I moved around- my League experience has been very diverse.
Rachel: What has been your least favorite role?
Carin: There were frustrations with all of them but none of them stood out as a negative. It was a learning experience so I can’t really say anything negative. It was kind of like, “well what do you now?”
Rachel: How have you seen the league change through the years?
Carin: I went sustaining in 2004, I had been active at least 10 years. In terms of change, there have been a lot of new and exciting projects that have been worked on. They seem to be really making a difference. As far as The Christmas Company, I’ve seen it in its heyday when profit after all expenses was six figures plus. I can still remember the large cardboard check that they stood up and presented- 300k net profit. I’ve seen the ups and the downs of The Christmas Company. You know, those are the changes. The economy has changed; interests have changed, as far as what they want in The Christmas Company.
Rachel: If you had a conversation with a woman contemplating joining the League, what would you say sets Junior League apart from the many other charities out there?
Carin: This is a learning and teaching organization. It teaches you how to be a professional volunteer. I’m in other organizations and I’m able to use the skills that I obtain in the League and apply them. There isn’t any place else where there are so many dynamic individuals where (the organization) is so large. You come together and you work together, and really do work TOGETHER. Because of the varieties of the committees and the tasks that need to be done, this is one of the best organizations to be involved in to learn how to be a volunteer that you can carry through the rest of your life.
Rachel: What has been the most impactful or exciting benefiting charity JLOCC has worked with in your opinion?
Carin: When I was first involved, Orangewood was the big deal. That was so powerful. I was part of the 100 year anniversary of AJLI. It was called “100 Year Celebration,” and we had 100 volunteers and did it over at Orangewood. I still remember Elise got a hold of an elephant and was giving away free elephant rides! (laughter) Oh my gosh! I still remember she made me ride the elephant, she sat in front and made me sit behind her. That was a really impactful day. I had kids grabbing on to me who didn’t want me to leave and your heart was being torn from you.
The fundraising to put together the Boys Club of San Juan Capistrano- getting the money together- that was an incredible project to open that up.
And something as simple as meeting with kids in foster care and teaching them how to put a resume together and how to interview so they can get a job. As soon as they turn 18 they let them out of their foster homes and they usually don’t have work experience, which makes it very difficult for them to get a job. I remember doing workshops with the kids to keep them prepared. That was a side project, not a major committee.
Rachel: How does being a sustainer differ from being an active member?
Carin: (Smiles) There aren’t as many requirements. When I went sustaining it was because of personal reasons and I didn’t have time anymore. I actually changed my entire career because of what happened personally. I had to allow myself time. It has given me an opportunity that I can go when I want to go, whether to go to annual meetings, the seminars- and of course ALWAYS The Christmas Company. My friends all look forward to TCC.
With the caliber of women in the League- it’s nice to be part of a group of women who are go-getters. They are women in charge. They are empowered women. They are women who are going to get things done. It’s very stimulating. I’ll get home from meetings late at night all charged up and talk to my husband. I’ll tell him how stimulating this group of women is.
Rachel: What specific opportunities have you pursued both inside and outside the League that prepared you to become a leader?
Carin: I was telling you about cold calling/obtaining donations above. I work for a large hotel corporation, and these leadership skills go hand in hand. I am and have been in charge of the fundraising for our corporate events. We will have fundraisers; our company’s particular charity is Children’s Miracle Network. We’re in competition in charge of raising money. We will have events for associates or guests. I’ve done baskets all by myself. I’ve contacted different hotels, restaurants, etc. With donations we aren’t paying for anything, but we advertise within the company and guest list- giving them an opportunity to donate or bid. They’ve come to me for direction and I’ve trained associates to do some of this- passing that fundraising skill set along. Considering a phone call is very important- personal contacts are SO important. Somebody who knows somebody.
Rachel: When you were committee fundraising chair, how did you hold the ladies on your committee accountable if they were not as vested as you would like?
Carin: My committee was just me and two other people. We didn’t have email back then; there was no texting, no email. You were picking up your home phone and calling people trying to track them down. But it was trying to call them, after a couple of times if they didn’t respond, they aren’t interested. What did I do? I had been in the League for a while and knew other individuals, so I’d reach out to other people I knew in the League to assist. The job still has to get done, if someone isn’t going to communicate with you, there is nothing you can do about that directly. Nowadays you can send email reminders, send a text, a calendar invitation. It’s easier to say, “you know what I can’t do it, I have other commitments,” etc. We used to rely on answering machines- easier to ignore.
Rachel: How would you say that your career in hospitality has helped you as a member of the League?
Carin: I’m not afraid to go up to anybody and talk to them. In my current position, I’m doing customer care work at the request of my upper management, and I’m handling situations that can go all over the place. You know what? I’ve been told is that I’m approachable and I listen. My company has certain things they want all associates to do- show some compassion, sympathize. If you sit back and listen to what somebody is saying, what they’re saying may not necessarily be what the problem is. The League taught me to reach out to people and not be afraid, have a style that’s MY style. The other organization I was in charge of multiple times was the Founder’s Day Luncheon for my alumni group at college. The first year I did it, there were just under 300 people, the last time I did it, was just under 450 guests and I was the emcee! The skills I learned- to speak, to delegate, the fundraising. I also empowered each person that was in it working with me to handle their portion. If you need help, I’m here, and the team is here, but you need to be empowered to do your job. Also- try not to micromanage!
Rachel: What motivates you to want to volunteer?
Carin: It makes me feel good to contribute to others. I’m raising money for causes that are important. I’m teaching girls, ladies, college women things that I’ve learned through my experience. A lot of things you have to go through on your own so it becomes important to the individual. Sharing what I went through gives these women an idea of what somebody else’s path was, and if they see an obstacle perhaps to work their way through
Side note- a lady I worked with very closely at work for 4 years, VERY close, one of her young daughters ended up with a serious medical condition. She had moved out of the area and was doing a two hour commute in each direction. Her daughter ultimately ended up at CHOC. My co worker lived in the Ronald McDonald house for a month, and we helped with fundraising for that foundation. The money we raised was instrumental, and because of that she could be with her daughter. It didn’t have a good ending, but she was able to stay there for a month and be close to her daughter without worrying about that commute. She still comes back, she does the CHOC walks, she speaks if she can, she gets all of us involved. It means something- it’s personal. It’s moving to have someone you know actually go through this and see firsthand someone who benefited firsthand from these charities.
Rachel: Do you prefer roles in which you have collaborated with other committee members, or the role of an individual contributor, and why?
Carin: I actually like being part of a team. You feed off of each other for ideas, motivations, friendship. Working together those long hours, putting those baskets together until 2 AM. For quite a few years I worked in finance. We used to have a safe at The Christmas Company- this was before credit cards could be used there- we were constantly making change for the vendors. We’d have to get the register tapes and balance them all. I don’t think I could be in the safe, but I could take the registers and hand them to somebody. It was like “oh my gosh”- to see all that money! That last day, vendors- let’s say they made 10k, there was a percentage that went back to the League. That’s actually how I got one of my jobs at the hotel- I became a general cashier there based on my TCC experience.
Rachel: What are your future goals, either as they pertain to you personally, to your League involvement, or both?
Carin: I think I’ll probably always be involved. I still touch base with some of the ladies that are sustainers. I’m still working and I like working! I get such a kick out of working with individuals that are just out of college, going through the process and figuring out their career- seeing how they see things. They teach me a lot! I teach them who Paul McCartney and The Stones are and they teach me who John Legend is. If I have a problem with my phone, (which is inevitable), they will fix it! I have a little chair in my area and they can come talk to me. I don’t ever tell them what to do. I really love my job, I’m also really fortunate things turned around as they did. I went through a career change in 2004 from a demanding stressful position. I turned that around and worked my way to the point where I am now. My goals- I’ll still be involved. Skills you learn through the league are invaluable. You aren’t going to learn things like that in another organization. It’s something that’s lifelong that I will carry with me.
Rachel: Have you had any particular women who have been role models to you within your League career?
Carin: Elise Hartman. She’s the whole package. She worked full time. She was married. She had a child. She took on roles and turned them around. She was a strong empowered woman who made things happen. She has since taken on other roles in other organizations, but to me, she was my mentor.
Rachel: How would your fellow League volunteers, co workers or friends describe you?
Carin: As a coworker said to me yesterday (I don’t like to boast) she appreciated my style in how I speak to people. Even when people are incredibly upset, they told me “you have a way of speaking to people so they are comfortable speaking to you.” When I’ve been in charge of a committee they’ve always been comfortable. There’s a way to delegate and lead without micromanaging. Whether it’s at work or through my other organizations, they know if I’ve made a commitment that I complete it and follow through and that it’s timely.
Rachel: If you could share any advice or wisdom with us, what would you say?
Carin: In the League- take on a task that you’re not comfortable with. It will stretch your skills and open a new world. Perhaps the fears you had may not be accurate. Overcome your fears. When you overcome them you can move on to the next level. I keep going back to the cold calling- then being able to talk to people face to face and have meetings with them, then overseeing a large event. It takes that one step to come out of your comfort zone, and then you can utilize that experience in so many ways throughout your life. This is one of the few organizations you can use to advance yourself. When I was thinking about a career change, I realized I was comfortable now. My experience with the League vs. someone who was a President or on the Board, I would think they had a completely different experience. I was more in the background. I like being on the committees and working with people and being part of the team.
I wanted to end this by saying the key is to HAVE FUN! If you don’t enjoy doing this, really, you’re just doing it to do it. You have to really WANT to do it. I remember all the wonderful experiences. It was a challenge, but there are SO many enjoyable experiences where I was learning, I did it and it was hard, but there was a sense of accomplishment. To me it was an incredible experience. I would do it all over again. I can’t imagine any other organization that gave me so much. If I knew people who were looking to join an organization, something like Junior League is really something that after college you can really enjoy. (Or even if you didn’t go to college), it was an invaluable experience!
As evidenced by my chat with Carin, there is so much value brought to our League by our sustaining members. They are a key reason that we have continued to thrive as a chapter. Their involvement with our initiatives, founding charities, benefiting charities, and guiding with support continues to drive much of what we do as a league. They are an army of women who continue to selflessly give of their time, treasure and talent to better our local community. Leaving Starbucks, the rain has cleared and the sun has warmed up my car. Driving away, my windshield wipers start up again and I shut them off. I think about the many women I joined the League with and wonder what our League careers will look like in 20+ years. It is because of the legacy of those that came before us that we have such an amazing organization to be involved with. Carin is an amazing woman, and I’m thankful she allowed me the opportunity to hear her story over a hot cup of coffee on a rainy afternoon.