Imagine navigating your way through a busy airport with a broken wrist and ankle, towing baggage and dodging nearly late passengers. Then imagine flying across the country to volunteer with an organization, not knowing anyone, and just jumping in with both feet, limping slightly, where needed.
Last February, Janet Conroy, Savvy Women’s Alliance Volunteer of the Year did just that. Janet is an airline attendant and is no stranger to airports and airplanes, so she may have a bit of an advantage - getting there was the easy part. Walking into a room of strangers and asking, “how can I help,” takes courage, enthusiasm and commitment to a cause.
Her job as a flight attendant is what actually led her to get more involved with the Savvy Women's Alliance on a deeper level. The airline she works for had recently issued new uniforms and many of the attendants experienced reactions to the chemicals within the fibers. Rashes, physical illness, a sort of “brain fog.” Though she stopped wearing her new uniform, she realized that the chemicals were still concentrated in the cabin of the planes, seeping from the clothes of her colleagues. In a small, enclosed area, toxins can build up. It was during one of these brain fogs that Janet fell and broke her ankle and wrist. She says, “I never had allergies or sensitivities to substances so I didn’t know what people who suffered from these things were going through. Suddenly I could, and I wanted to help spread the word about nontoxic living.”
As we talked I’d catch just a hint of Janet’s roots in her voice, a touch of southern accent that made me feel welcome and comfy. Janet grew up on a farm in West Virginia where they grew and harvested just about everything they needed. Living simply was second nature to her. “That’s just how we did it – organically.” Simply and organically best describes Janet’s ongoing volunteer work with the Savvy Women's Alliance, too. She says, “I don’t do anything that stands out. I go to meetings to work on whatever needs to be done. I’m still getting my feet wet.” But it’s in those little steps from each of us that progress is made.
And those steps tend to have a ripple effect, sending out awareness where we would never think possible. As a newly-enrolled student at Harvard Extension working toward a Masters in Sustainability, she described the work of the Savvy Women's Alliance in a get-to-know-you introduction, and it got the attention of more than a few classmates. “I’m not a spokesperson, I’m an ambassador; I go out and spread the word.” The focus of her studies is on building greenhouses and social justice – fighting for environmental changes. She says about returning to school; “I’m on a rollercoaster of what-did-I-do and I-can-do-this!!” But feeling that ripple effect makes it all worth it.
As for working with the women of Savvy, she says, “when I first went, I was intimidated, it seemed they knew so much. But I was reassured by the women that it’s ok, you’ll build on it. Just one change at a time and you’ll get where you want to be.”
Little by little, Janet continues to make an impact. This past February, after watching a documentary called The True Cost, she vowed not to buy a single stitch of clothing for one year. One year!! She says, “I was so conflicted when helping to raise money for an event sponsored by LuLaRo and bought a dress. Since February, I haven’t bought one thing except that dress. It’s still in the bag! We are a disposable society. We need to relearn the meaning of repurpose.”
The night she was called up for her award was a big surprise to her, though perhaps not to anyone who knew her.“It hit me at the meeting that Kristi was calling my name as Volunteer of the Year. I was proud that someone noticed that I was there. It really does matter that someone knows your name and acknowledges your contributions.”
Thank you, Janet, your light shines every where you go!
Do you have a want to be part of something meaningful? Can you check a task off our list or oversee a small project? If you have one to two hours in a month available, we would LOVE to hear from you. Not sure where you fit in? No worries. We know how to make a perfect match.