Civitan International has reached a few milestones in its 100 year history. Founded and based in Birmingham, it was the first of the major civic organizations to admit women to full membership, the first to break the racial barrier (in the 1940s) and among the first to go international. When Scarlet Thompson takes on the role of Executive Vice President in July, she will become the first female leader of the organization.
Here are five questions to get to know Civitan’s new leader:
You’ve had a successful career in television and in nonprofit leadership, what attracted you about Civitan and how does it feel to be the first female EVP?
Civitan International has a rich legacy of building communities and servant leaders in those communities. The organization’s impact has been felt worldwide for a century, and the work our club members are doing on a daily basis is changing lives. Many of those changed lives are those who have developmental and intellectual disabilities, which is close to my heart because of my son’s journey with autism.
It’s an incredible honor to help lead this organization into its next century, and additionally to know I am its first female EVP. A few weeks after getting word I was hired for this position, I received a message from someone related to a Civitan leader who helped bring about the change of including women in service clubs. It really didn’t sink in until then that my appointment was making history.
It’s a surreal spot to be in, but one in which I will do my best to honor the efforts of those members who helped bring about that change.
You’re homegrown—a Birmingham native—what kept you in the city? What were your career goals coming out of college?
Back in my college days, I was one of those Birmingham natives who just wanted to move out. I wanted to explore the world! As a budding journalist, I dreamed of producing a national television newscast. However, family needs and job opportunities kept me here. I am so glad they did!
After working for years helping share the stories of those in our area through my television news career and then seeing first hand the generosity of those who live here through my non-profit career, I have immense pride for our community. That’s one of the many reasons I took this job.
Birmingham should be proud it is home to an international non-profit. What started here one hundred years ago is influencing the world today. In leading Civitan, I get the awesome opportunity to share that spirit, that started where I grew up, with the world.
Civitan is beginning a second century of service and, like most old companies, it has seen a lot of change. What are some of the challenges you see ahead for service organizations in general?
I think this is a unique time for service organizations. Currently we are engaging at least three distinctly different generations of people as members. They serve their communities because of different reasons, and their gifts of time, money and efforts look differently just based on the time period in which they grew up. That’s a lot of audiences to take into account when you are trying to recruit, support and include them.
I also think there are more opportunities to serve in our communities than ever before, and more things that distract people from doing so. As service organizations we will be challenged in the next decade to show our adaptability and flexibility to further our missions.
In the end though, these generations have the same goal, which is to make a difference. If we can focus on that as we refine our organization, Civitan can succeed in being that outlet through which others better the world.
Civitan clubs are very hyper-local. They try to meet needs in their own communities but Civitan has also funded research at UAB for a few decades. How can Civitan impact the Birmingham, or global, community for the next generation?
Overall, the way we impact the next generation is one of the lines in our creed. It says, “My eyes search for others to join in the fellowship and service of Civitan.” I think awareness is key to finding others to collaborate for our cause.
We need to share our stories and tell them in unique and diverse ways. Our clubs are doing amazing things. We need to continue that work but also take the time to communicate the difference it is making. If we do that successfully, we will have others who want to join us.
For Birmingham, that means sharing with the community the work of their neighbors, along with the breakthroughs that are happening at the Civitan International Research Center at UAB. In turn, we here at Civitan need to showcase Birmingham as a place that truly birthed the service to community movement, and still today is its biggest promoter of it globally.
If you had to describe your goals for Civitan in ten words or less, what would you say?
Building and uniting champions of service across the world
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