Thank you, Barbara for such a meaningful installation. I appreciate you honoring the incoming Executive Committee by serving as the installing officer. You and I began our friendship in this very hotel, 18 years ago, when I was serving as the NGC Convention Chairman.
I also owe a sincere thank you to our former NGC Presidents, Lois Shuster, Kitty Larkin, Deen Day Sanders, Shirley Nicolai, Sandy Robinson, Renee Blaschke and Linda Nelson, for their continued support of NGC and for their unwavering support of me, as I journeyed through various roles on the NGC Board. You have all been my mentors, my teachers and my inspiration, and I am most grateful for your encouragement in preparing for this task ahead of me. Tonight, I feel so honored to be given the opportunity to continue their legacy, as the 46th NGC President. Working with each of you has been a joy.
There are so many here who have supported and encouraged me throughout my journey to this leadership role. With me this evening are several family members. First, and foremost, Will, my husband, who has always been my number one supporter and best friend. Also here are my mother, Elisabeth, who exposed me at an early age, to the magical happenings in a garden, and to my children, Reg, Sara, Molly, Peter and David and their spouses, some of which who were unable to attend tonight. I don’t want to overlook our ten grandchildren, who represent our dreams for the future. Also with us tonight are my siblings, cousins and fellow board members from Keep Mississippi Beautiful.
From my initial invitation to join the McComb Garden Club 33 years ago, I began this exciting adventure through many venues, learning and growing as a leader along the way. I would like to extend a very special thank you to my local garden club members and also members of the Natchez Garden Club and Natchez Trace District, who helped create this natural beauty tonight.
The spark that ignited my venture beyond my local club was my first attendance at a Natchez Trace District meeting. From that point on, my eagerness to learn, to participate and be involved has helped me to grow as a leader. The former state presidents of Mississippi have always been supportive and encouraging as I increased my service time to our national organization. People such as Mary Jo Wedgeworth, Eloise Cumbaa and Bonnie Borne, just to name a few who were instrumental in initially planting a seed for my future leadership roles. And, certainly, I owe my sincere appreciation to all of my Mississippi garden club friends, many of which are here tonight. Rhonda Rosetti, Carol Bullard and Debby Cooper have worked tirelessly for several years to organize this ‘Gathering on the Gulf” convention. This beautiful installation setting tonight was envisioned by John Grady Burns, a native of Natchez, Mississippi and a huge supporter of garden clubs across our nation. Thank you John Grady! Also, along with my own state’s support, I wouldn’t be here without the encouragement from the sister states of the Deep South Region.
It goes without saying that the NGC Executive Director, Michelle Smith, along with, Katie, Bill, Chris, and Rebekah, are all valuable employees of our headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. On a daily basis their expert skills not only maintain our permanent headquarters, but also to assist us in the overall management of NGC.
Our experiences in garden club have equipped us to continue with the mission of NGC because the past molds and shapes us into dedicated, untiring volunteers across our world. We have been offered an endless number of learning opportunities, we have educated ourselves, and through this exposure, we have developed our sense of commitment to leave our world in better hands. A strong sense of appreciation, pride and knowledge helps us to continue the worthwhile traditions of NGC, as we all beautify and protect landscapes from coast to coast.
We, as garden club members have strengthened our communities by using our time and talents to improve our surroundings. Let us continue to stimulate interest and identify needs in our communities by providing leadership, educational programs and by promoting our local, state, region, national and international garden clubs.
I challenge all garden club members to reach out to individuals who want to learn more about gardening. This act will broaden the exposure and awareness of National Garden Clubs. It is proven that gardening not only has health benefits, but it also strengthens our communities through beautification projects as we work together to bring beauty and pride to our communities.
This administration will continue with the Plant America Community Grant Program, financially assisting member clubs with community projects. Special emphasis will be on conservation of our natural habitats, membership and youth participation. It is our hope that our members will involve youth in outdoor activities, by encouraging them to “Reconnect with Nature”.
I challenge all of us to improve our observation of our diverse environments. Through our vision, we can inspire others to take action every day to protect our natural habitats. Let’s develop projects that demonstrate our respect for natural resources so that we can assure a healthy world for our future generations. When we urge others to join in our environmental efforts, educate them on challenges ahead of us, and encourage them to participate in areas of need, our entire world will benefit. Change can happen through partnerships with other groups with common interests which will also help to improve and beautify our community environments. Let us nurture our natural habitats, and watch as nature takes care of the rest.
The world-wide downward decline of members in all volunteer organizations is a social issue, one we must acknowledge and accept. We should reach out to the generations ahead of us by adapting to their interests, changing times and formats of our meetings and not doing things in a certain way “just because it’s always been done that way”. During this two year term of office, it is my intent for NGC to continue to focus on membership by reaching out to both potential new individuals, as well as strengthening the commitment of existing members through our many educational opportunities. Well- informed members will energize those around them and encourage new memberships in our clubs.
By networking through the many areas of the digital and social media world, we can greatly enhance our public visibility as an organization by showing that we have something for everyone. We have always invited people to join us at meetings – let’s initiate enthusiasm by reaching out to these potential members, rather than wait for them to come to us. Active participation in NGC can come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Let us embrace diversity and inclusiveness. Challenging times force us to create opportunities for new ways of thinking. Let us be receptive to simplification and streamlining of active membership. Through the proper management of our services, and promotion of the NGC mission statement, we will continue to affect positive change in our world.
Our International Affiliates have strengthened our organization, as they have embraced our mission statement and made tremendous progress in the digital world by providing online courses in countries where traveling is limited. Through their involvement, NGC is reaching out to many international groups. Tonight there are many here in their countries’ native attire, celebrating our future together. Thank you for your dedication.
I recently found a newspaper clipping, from our local newspaper dated in 1967. It featured a 10 year old girl, who was interviewed because of her artistic talent. When she was asked… “What do you like to do?” her response was simple…..“paint, play with my brothers and sister and work with flowers”. Why am I sharing this story? It’s because this young girl now stands before you as the newly installed NGC President. So never doubt that any small activity that you share with a child will influence them as they mature into an adult. I challenge each one of us to reach out to children and young adults by creating outdoor activities that will engage their imaginations, enhance their appreciation of their surroundings and educate them to become our stewards for tomorrow. Let us teach our children to observe the wonders of nature, and to care for our world.
For many years, the McComb Garden Club has sponsored three youth clubs, the Johnny Jump Ups (K4 through 2nd grade), the Busy Bees (3rd – 5th grade) and the junior and high school Garden Girls. How does this benefit us? We have been very successful in growing our future, as these children grow up and return to our club as active members. In our community, we have young adults who are interested in joining our club, if for no other reason than to let their children be in these youth clubs. My daughter, Sara, was once a Busy Bee, and now grown with her own family, devotes her volunteer time to the garden club, even serving as club president a couple of years ago.
We each have a responsibility to help guide our youth to the outdoors. Let’s create activities that excite them, making them want to cut off their electronic devices and reconnect with nature. Let’s promote youth involvement, so we can “grow” our future garden club members. Take the hand of a child and create a garden memory for them. Let us grow our future leaders by inspiring our youth.
One of the most important duties that we, as leaders have is to mentor and guide those who will become leaders of tomorrow. Let us meet this challenge with renewed energies and enthusiasm as we embrace the opportunities before us. We are capable of developing new skills, tackling new responsibilities and appreciating different points of view by working together to benefit our organization and our world. As we continue on our journey, let us communicate in a way that inspires positive behavior, so that others will follow. So, let’s adjust our actions and reconnect with nature, our members and our future generations.
As our home gardens have grown, so should National Garden Clubs. If we all share our passion for our organization, it will become a way for us all to bloom and grow together.
Let’s garden together……thank you.
Gay L. Austin
National Garden Clubs, Inc.