Freeman to guide Junior Leagues International

By Todd Cohen

After receiving a master’s degree in higher education from Michigan State University, Toni Freeman moved to Charlotte to take a job as a residence-hall director at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

She later worked as director of housing at Johnson C. Smith University and then as corporate associate vice president at SunHealth, now known as Premier.

And she joined the Junior League of Charlotte.

That League experience has served her well: Equipped with the League’s community-focused training, Freeman has been its volunteer president and held senior positions at the Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Duke Endowment, and Mecklenburg Citizens for Public Education.

In February, she joined The Mint Museum as its first chief operating officer.

And this month she begins serving as president of the Association of Junior Leagues International.

“Our niche is training women as civic leaders,” Freeman says of the Junior League, which has 115,000 members in 293 communities in four countries and is “one of the largest and most effective volunteer organizations in the world.”

At The Mint and at the Association of Junior Leagues, Freeman will play a key role in putting ambitious strategies into place to better attract and serve clients.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, The Mint has launched a plan to double its attendance to 400,000 within five years, increase the number of virtual visitors to 800,000 a year, create a North Carolina Pottery Research Center, increase its space for classrooms and studios, develop a children’s center for the arts, and increase public access to its art library.

And the Association of Junior Leagues last year launched a five-year “strategic road map” to position the organization to expand and to “fine-tune what’s core to us, which is training,” Freeman says.

That effort will address issues like the age at which women join the League.

Traditionally joining in their 20s or 30s, women increasingly “are less committed later in life, when their children are grown and their careers more settled,” Freeman says.

So the League is looking at ways to attract women “at all stages of life,” she says.

At local Leagues in 39 communities, the association is piloting efforts to “figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” including a range of options for providing training.

Those include launching a new product to integrate best practices for training and make it available online, giving League members access, whenever and wherever they want it, to whatever training approach suits them.

Training is critical to develop women as leaders and volunteers who can make a difference in an increasingly complex and challenging world, Freeman says.

Women volunteer differently, and are “community-focused” and “multi-taskers,” she says.

“If we use our training to empower women to be better leaders,” she says, “ultimately we’re going to have better and stronger communities.”

And with the economic downturn slamming nonprofits, and the demand for qualified and effective volunteers escalating, Freeman says, Junior Leagues can help train the volunteers nonprofits need.

“It’s a life-long skill,” she says. “What better gift than to give a trained volunteer at a time when the need is the greatest.”

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