Karyn McCarthy

Karyn McCarthy photograph

Karyn McCarthy is a club-building machine. She has already helped form five successful GFWC Illinois clubs, including GFWC Plainfield Junior Woman’s Club, GFWC Plainfield Juniorettes, and the GFWC Homer Glen Junior Woman’s Club, since she became a clubwoman herself in 2002. She does this all while maintaining a successful career as Executive Director for PowerForward DuPage in her native Illinois. How does she do it? A seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy certainly helps.

You and six other women started the Plainfield Junior Woman’s Club. Five years later, it is up to 75 members. How did you manage to pull off this great success?
I invited a couple of gals to my house in October of 2008 and made them all bring friends. I said, “Go to your jobs, go to your neighbors, do what you need to do, but come to my house, bring a bottle of wine and bring a friend,” and they did! We had seven ladies at that first organizational meeting and were chartered a few months later in January of 2009. A lot of the credit goes to how we organized. I really believe in the firm structure of our clubs and I think that women appreciate that structure. When you have an established club and you have the committee and leadership structure in place, the club grows.

We have a lot of rock star members that are constantly bringing in new members and talking about the club and that all goes towards helping you meet membership goals. I got the ball rolling, but they’re responsible for the club’s success.

When I joined the Joliet Junior Woman’s Club in 2002, it was already very well established with about 80-100 members. I found the leadership pipeline very quickly and became club president. I ended up starting a Joliet Juniorettes club in 2004. That was the first club where I kind of got my feet wet in learning how to start a club, and I had a lot of help with that. The Juniorettes were chartered in 2004 and still have members today, which is excellent. In 2008 I decided to charter a junior club in the town where I lived, which was Plainfield. The following year, we got the Plainfield Juniorettes started.

There’s just such a need for organizations such as ours. In fact, this year the Plainfield and Joliet clubs are going to be doing their first service project together which I’m very excited about.

You’re a bit of a club-creating machine. What drives that side of your volunteer work?
I do envision myself as a driving force, but I think why I like to see clubs get started, and using the Plainfield club in particular, many of these girls did not know each other three or four years ago and now they’re best friends. They go on vacations together; they babysit each other’s kids. Knowing I had anything to do with that is a huge reward. And then when I realize all the good we are doing, all the money we raise, and families we are helping, it just feels good! I think we’ve been able to distribute over $125,000 in five years. Just being able to be a part of that is awesome and why wouldn’t I want to seek out even more areas where women can benefit from new friendships and networking, and discovering even more ways to help the overall community? I love that part of it.

There are hundreds of friendships that I’ve made over the past 12 years. It’s such an invaluable network of women who genuinely care and are willing to offer their advice and expertise. I love that there are professional women I can call and bounce ideas off of, and at the same time these are lifelong friendships that we are forming, and I think that’s a personally enriching thing.


How would you describe your leadership style in GFWC?
I’m like a bull in a china shop! I come running through, excitedly yelling out ideas and visions for the club! But truth be told, I give the credit to the women that are left to pick up the ball after I’ve run through the room. You can’t have one person dictating everything. You have to empower people to run the club, or start new clubs. I like to be the motivator and the inspiration as to why people take action.

Over the years, (GFWC Secretary) Deb Strahanoski has really served as a wonderful friend and mentor. I could go on about our strong Illinois and international leadership. I always felt that I could take the next step because the support is there.

What are your career passions? How do you balance your professional career and your GFWC responsibilities?
The career path is just as interesting. I have 25 years of marketing and advertising experience. Very recently I left the agency side of the business and came to work for one of my clients. That was not something I had ever thought of or had intentions to do, but every once in a while, life presents opportunities to you, and it’s the ones that force you outside your comfort zone to realize that you could in fact have two or even three career lives. You don’t always have to be what you set out to be. With the job I have now, I’m able to bring in the marketing and advertising experience to a great level, but I’m also allowed to really utilize the community outreach side of my personality. Much of that comes through what I’ve learned through GFWC–philanthropic activity, being out and about in the community, being a good community partner. This position is allowing me to highlight that side of my abilities.

How has your GFWC experience shaped your professional career?
Had I not had 12 years of serving on boards, knowing parliamentary procedure, knowing how to craft an agenda, and experiences like that, it would have been very intimidating stepping into my new role, but instead I’m very used to it because of all my service work through GFWC.

It’s cool to practice what you preach. To help GFWC with its branding initiatives and now being in control of the branding initiative with my current company, it’s a wonderful gift. I love having a hand in it.

How difficult a decision was it for you to make your career change?
There was zero percent of me that wanted to leave my old position. I have really great friendships at my old job. They just sat me down and told me this was an opportunity I needed to take a look at, because they knew I was very capable and that I would enjoy the position. They had the foresight to say, “We don’t want to lose you, but this is one of those life moments you really need to pay attention to.” I just found that to be so unselfish.

It’s funny, I told people for years how much I love my job, but now I really love it. I had no idea there were aspects of my personality that I wasn’t relying on at my old job. Sometimes you don’t know until you’re scared to death, getting ready to jump off the cliff, if you’re going to make it or not. But if you don’t jump, you’ll never know.

As GFWC Illinois State Junior Director, what would you like to accomplish in the next two years?
I would like to see a focused shift to Juniorette clubs. I really enjoyed getting the two off the ground and I’d really like to see 3-5 more in two years. That might be a little ambitious, but it is one of my personal missions to visit as many of the 54 junior clubs in the state as I can and talk to them about serving as advisors to a Juniorette club.

Kids have to do service hours to graduate and I feel there’s a huge untapped potential in that secondary education market to introduce Juniorette clubs into the high schools.

What does being a GFWC Clubwoman mean to you?
Overall, it’s the friendships. There are hundreds of friendships that I’ve made over the past 12 years. It’s such an invaluable network of women who genuinely care and are willing to offer their advice and expertise. I love that there are professional women I can call and bounce ideas off of, and at the same time these are lifelong friendships that we are forming, and I think that’s a personally enriching thing. Being able to help others, and give back and raise money – that’s just such a bonus, but when you know you have friends you can rely on for the rest of your life, that’s a pretty incredible thing.


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