One of the best things about Junior League of Lafayette is the connection Members make with each other while fulfilling our vision of lasting community change.
To help foster that camaraderie, Junior League of Lafayette created affinity groups in 2021 to provide Members an opportunity to become more engaged in the League. The League currently offers four affinity groups – Book Club, Bridge Group, Let’s Brunch, and Women of Color (WOC) – and any Member can submit an idea to lead a new Affinity Group at any time.
“Affinity Groups give Members the opportunity to interact with other Members with similar interests, hobbies, and goals outside of their current placement,” said Jennifer Quirk, Affinity Group Coordinator. “From reading a good book, to learning a card game, grabbing Saturday brunch, or exchanging stories and background experience, the League offers an affinity group for everyone to belong to."
CONNECTION – WITHOUT AN AGENDA
Affinity groups also offer an important way to connect outside of normal League meetings and placements, to learn more about each other on a deeper level.
“Humans are social beings – we actively look for ways to connect with others. Unfortunately, we also have a tendency to place one another in a box depending on what you know of that person,” said Katie Guidry, Personnel Vice President.
Guidry signed up for Let's Brunch last year and enjoyed it so much that she volunteered to be the coordinator this year to help keep it going.
“Affinity groups are a great equalizer as you are not your current placement, job, or family role – you're a member looking to make new friends with similar interests. You only need one thing in common to have a new friend,” she said.
JaWand Edwards-Morris, Admissions chair and co-founder of the WOC group, said the groups create bonds that often turn into friendships. She joined the brunch group to socialize and seize on an opportunity to meet other Members in a casual setting.
“There are so many benefits to this additional outlet,” she said. “Members can meet and socialize with other members without the agendas of meetings and placements.”
FOSTERING A SENSE OF BELONGING
Alee Khambounleuang, Health Essentials Resource step-up, got involved with the WOC group shortly after her Provisional year in 2020. She signed up and completed AJLI’s 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge and got plugged into the National WOC affinity group. When she learned Junior League of Lafayette had something similar here in Lafayette, she knew she wanted to join.
“I love the smaller group and the sharing experience and knowledge with women that I feel more similar to,” she said. “This gives people the opportunity to speak, share, and feel like they are being heard. It’s a safe space – I always felt welcomed, and was able to share openly how I felt about something.”
Those shared experiences are at the core of why the WOC group was created, Edwards-Morris said. As a Placement Advisor, she had many conversations during interviews that sparked the idea for the WOC group. She partnered with Aleisha Johnson Cook and the WOC group was born.
"We wanted to create an opportunity for historically underrepresented women to connect and build capacity,” she said. “This group is very important because it provides support and mentorship in space where sometimes WOC can be underrepresented and feel uncomfortable.”
Khambounleuang said these connections empower women, create sponsors and allies, and challenge the norm.
“Most people want to spend time with people who look like them. It is comfort. And prospective members are noticing the difference in membership and seeing someone like them,” she said.
For Edwards-Morris, the groups foster belonging through common denominators of ideology and interest.
“These groups play a vital role in ensuring an environment where everyone is valued, included, and empowered to succeed,” she said. “For example, many believe the WOC affinity group is only for WOC, but we are also open to non-WOC who are supporters and allies.”
'YOU’LL WALK AWAY A MORE FULFILLED PERSON’
All of our schedules are overbooked with events and appointments, so adding another activity "just for us” tends to be something we are willing to forego, Guidry said. But ultimately it can be good for us.
“I would encourage you to take that hour – or two – and attend an affinity group gathering. You’ll walk away a more fulfilled person than when you went in,” she said.
And even for longtime Members like Guidry (she’s been active for 17 years!) who’ve met and worked with so many in the League, the small groups provide new experiences.
"Affinity groups have given me the opportunity to talk with and learn from Members I would not have worked alongside. It's all about personal growth – even when over food,” she said.
The WOC group meets regularly, sends a monthly newsletter with suggested reading and Member shoutouts, hosts workshops facilitated by other Junior League of Lafayette Members, and connects via a GroupMe where Members can share job opportunities, volunteer projects, and cheer each other on.
Let’s Brunch added Saturdays and weekdays (in addition to Sundays) this year to their gathering dates to make the brunches more accessible.
JLL Members who want to join any affinity group can sign up on their Member homepage – just look for Affinity Groups under the Personnel tab.