Julie Abshire said she couldn’t believe her ears Thursday night when sitting at the Jaycees national conference in Chicago.
It was time for the Harold A. Marks Memorial Award to be given out, designating the top Jaycees chapter in the nation.
As the 2010 president of the Wyandotte Jaycees, Abshire acknowledged her group did a great amount of work, but said she knew that other, much larger groups had done similar good feats across the country.
But none had outdone the work that was done locally.
“When they announced that we had won, it was kind of a shocker,” Abshire said. “We were up there with competition with some phenomenal chapters across the United States. It definitely put Wyandotte on the map and has really shown that we do a lot for the community.”
Last year, she said, the Wyandotte Jaycees completed more than 130 projects, raised $40,000 and recruited 30 new members. All the money raised goes right back into the community, Abshire said.
The Jaycees often raise money for organizations other than themselves, including the American Cancer Society and the Lions Club. The group also sponsors 30 families near the holidays and provides them all with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, as well as presents for the children.
Wyandotte has never won the national award before. Only one other Michigan chapter has in the past 20 years.
“It’s a pretty high honor and we’re proud to bring it home to Wyandotte,” Abshire said.
The award is named in honor of Harold A. Marks who served as a national director of the Arizona Jaycees in 1935-36. He was killed in March 1936 while flying to the installation of a new chapter.
The trophy, which is a wooden cup, eventually will be placed inside the Jaycees trophy case at , which already contains the many state-level awards the group has won over the years.
Abshire said the group was specifically honored for having the “best programming for individual leadership and membership development in the nation.”
Simply put, she said, the Wyandotte Jaycees were able to recruit new volunteers while keeping existing volunteers engaged enough to attend Jaycee functions and fundraisers.
“We’re able to create quality programming that is attractive to every different age group in our organization,” Abshire said. “That we can get 21-year-olds up to 40-year-olds out to our projects to do things is amazing. It may not sound like much, but it’s a rarity for any business to keep their people active and involved.”
Key to that success, Abshire said, is an emphasis on communication that she instituted during her time as president.
By using social media, a weekly e-newsletter, the Jaycees website and Wyandotte Patch, Abshire said, the group was able to get 75 percent of its overall membership to attend group functions and projects.
Abshire moved to Wyandotte in 2005 and said she didn’t know anyone. After looking around, she said, she discovered that the Jaycees seemed to be the best fit for her.
“I wanted to be something bigger than I was individually,” she said. “The Jaycees was the organization that had the most young people in it and that’s what I was looking for. I now have friends all over the state. I have friends all over the nation. I would not have met so many wonderful people and have been involved in so many wonderful events if it weren’t for the Jaycees.”
While the national award honors the Jaycees for the work members did in 2010 when Abshire was president, she said, the honor is not hers alone.
“This award is not due to any one person in the organization,” she said. “We really came together as an organization last year and made a difference in the community. We work really hard to make Wyandotte a better place. This award is just the cherry on top.”