If there is anyone who knows the secret to moving to a new community, it’s Megan Coward.
After she graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro with a bachelor’s in human development family studies, she moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Megan did not know a single soul so the summer she started her job, she googled women’s organizations in the area, and “Junior League of Charleston” popped up. The membership application was live on their website, so she signed up for her provisional year. She said, “During my first year, I learned what the Junior League stood for, what they offered their members, and how the ladies of the organization impacted their community. I was hooked!”
The Junior League gave Megan an “in” with the community. It provided her with life-long friendships, volunteer opportunities, and helped her pursue career development. Founded in 1901, the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.’s (AJLI) purpose was and still is exclusively educational and charitable. Their values include diversity, collaboration, community, empowerment, leadership, respect, and service. The organization is made up of more than 125,000 women in over 295 communities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico. The Junior League prides itself on creating real change by advancing social activism-focused projects that directly benefit their local community.
After getting married and spending three exciting years in Charleston, Megan’s family moved to Columbia, because her husband, John, was beginning medical school. Megan found herself in a new community again, so what did she do? Megan easily transferred her membership and became a part of the Junior League of Columbia. In Charleston, she was on the Fun Development Committee and helped with planning events and in Columbia, she was on the Healthy Kids Fun Fair Committee. They would set up in a school gym and host the community and have doctors and dentists give free health exams and teeth cleanings. So far, every time she would become eligible to apply for a higher-up position, she had to move again, and her next destination was the Grand Strand.
Megan’s family moved to Murrells Inlet in the summer of 2018 for her husband to start his 3-year Family Medicine Residency through Tidelands MUSC at Waccamaw Hospital. She spent most of her time with her son and daughter, so it was difficult for her to get acquainted with other women and the community. She was shocked when she found out the Grand Strand did not have a Junior League and the closest options were Charleston or Florence. So, she contacted the AJLI who informed her that they had a record of women asking about starting one along the Grand Strand for over 20 years, but no one ever wanted to take it on. Luckily, the AJLI put her in contact with two other women, Nicole Queen and Mary Margaret Hyatt, who also recently inquired about starting a Junior League of the Grand Strand.
At the beginning of 2019, Megan, Nicole, and Mary Margaret got together for lunch and reviewed all of the information. The AJLI said it would probably take them three years to get it started and although Megan knew she would be off to another community by that time, she decided she “might as well make the community even better before she leaves it.” At the end of 2019, they held their first interest meeting and a whopping 140 women showed up. Remarkably, it only took the founders 18 months to go through the entire affiliation process with board meetings, webinars, community scanning, and financial planning. They declared their roles: Megan as president, Nicole as vice president, and Mary Margaret as treasurer.
They launched their first round of memberships for the Junior League of the Grand Strand last May, during the pandemic. The biggest obstacle they faced was obviously social distancing because they are a social organization by nature. They had to navigate how to appropriately host meetings and how to safely approach volunteer opportunities. Most women had changes in their work life, home life, and personal life, but also felt like their community partners needed their help more than ever. They survived their founding year and were officially approved as an organization through the AJLI.
In May of 2021, the Junior League of the Grand Strand held its first Founder’s Day. Two ladies pulled Megan to the side and said, “We just wanted to tell you how hard this past year has been for us, personally and professionally, and if we could tell you anything, it’s ‘thank you!’ Because of this organization, I met my best friend during this crazy time.” Megan affirmed, “and that is what being in the Junior League is all about. The socials, functions, and events are more like the icing on the cake, but the heart of who we are is helping others whether it be members or those in the community. Hearing these stories and seeing the connections that have been made, is exactly what I could’ve hoped for. I am thrilled to see all they accomplish next year.”
The Junior League of the Grand Strand’s 2021 goal is to replicate the success of last year but make an even greater impact. Megan believes the organization will incorporate Lunch and Learn Events, an Annual Gala, and partner with a local school to help increase the technological advantages of children in our community. She has high hopes that they will continue to be a leading force of change in our community. As of July 1st, Megan has left her presidency in great hands.
The new president is a Grand Strand local, Amanda Millen, and she is eager to begin her new role: “The Junior League has such a strong presence worldwide and I am looking forward to seeing what our members can do throughout the Grand Strand community. It is a privilege to follow in the footsteps of our founders by taking on a leadership role and working with other passionate women. I know this will be the perfect way for me to plug in and give back to the community that raised me. After experiencing a pandemic during our founding year, I am beyond excited that our 2021-2022 league year will be full of lively events, awesome volunteer opportunities, and so many new smiling faces.”
Although Megan’s time here has come to an end, she has absolutely loved her experience along the Grand Strand. She has adored the close-knit community her family found in Murrells Inlet. She loved the landscape of the coast and going to the beach with family and friends. They enjoyed spending time outside kayaking and bike riding. They were very active in their church, Belin United Methodist Church, but as founding president of the Junior league of the Grand Strand, she was able to be even more connected to the community. Megan explained, “My role as president opened me up to a radius of women from Georgetown to North Myrtle Beach with diverse backgrounds, professions, and passions, and although we are all different, we are all a part of this organization for the same reason.”
Being a member of the Junior League for 10 years has grown to be a huge part of who Megan is as a person. She concluded with, “Starting this organization has stretched me in all my capacities. The process was harder than I imagined, but so much more rewarding than I anticipated. I’ve learned, grown, and developed as a woman and as a leader in my community along with so many other inspiring women. I am proud of us!” Now that Megan has bettered herself and the community, she is off to Columbia where her husband will be a Hospitalist at Prisma Richland. Megan and her family may move around to several communities, but regardless of where they go geographically, Megan knows that she will always belong to the Junior League.