This year marks 95 years of the Junior League of Memphis. With 1,600 members and a full-time staff of four, the educational and charitable organization is at the forefront of moving Memphis forward through promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Leading the way is their President-Elect, Erica Stiff-Coopwood, who is also the first African-American woman to hold the position. The former attorney is devoting this phase of her life to her family and giving back to the community through the Junior League of Memphis. Erica is also on the board of the Memphis in May International Festival and a member of The Links, Incorporated. We are pleased to welcome today’s FACE of Memphis, Erica Stiff-Coopwood.
Are you a native Memphian?
I’m originally from Yazoo City, Mississippi, and when I graduated high school, I headed to Georgia to attend Agnes Scott College. I attended law school at Vanderbilt University and practiced law in Nashville until my husband, Reginald, got the call to be President and CEO of Regional One Health in Memphis in 2010.
What are you most looking forward to during your year as the Junior League of Memphis (JLM) president?
Continuing the relationships between the volunteers of the Junior League and the neighbors that we serve. 2022 will be our 100th year, and while, of course, volunteering is a major part of what we do, we also focus on developing leadership skills for our women, which will be a huge focus in the coming years. We’ve got the volunteerism down pat. We’re very good at that, and now we want to focus more on leadership development.
What do you wish everyone knew about JLM?
Most people know about the volunteering we do, but many don’t know that most of our members are professional women. I am an attorney, and while I don’t work outside of the house any more, most of our members do. We’ve got bankers, lawyers, ER doctors, cancer doctors, financial analysts and more — about 90 percent of our membership is working women, which is so different than it was even 30 years ago. These are women who go out and give their time on top of their busy work and home lives. It’s all about prioritizing, and I’d like people to know that our women do find the time to prioritize giving back to the community.
Any advice for our readers looking to get started in volunteering?
If you want to get your feet wet with volunteering either a little bit or a whole lot, join the Junior League! Way back when, we used to have these age restrictions and exclusivity in a lot of organizations, not just the Junior League. But we have taken away all restrictions. We have a lot of women who have just retired and joined because they want to volunteer. Any woman who wants to give her time is welcome, and the Junior League allows you to volunteer in our community in a way that is truly impactful.
What inspires you?
A good sermon! A good sermon is great for encouragement, direction and inspires me to change the things I want to work on.
Every person I come in contact with I treat as what I call a “gatekeeper.” I see people who I meet, for any reason, as someone who has a wealth of knowledge for me. I am very intentional with relationships to see what knowledge we can exchange to make each other better. You never know what part that person is going to play in your life. Being mindful and being open to others is huge for me, and I treat everyone I meet as a sort of mentor.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Late-night snacking! In order to keep a hold on it, after I put my girls to bed, I cut up some fruit, like watermelon or strawberries, and keep it in a bowl in my fridge to prepare for the inevitable midnight run. That keeps me from running to the pantry for food I don’t need.
What are your hobbies, and how do you unwind?
Reading. I read so much, and I keep a four-shelf library where I keep my personal development books. I read about a book and a half a month. I have to be very intentional about it, because it’s so easy to pick a book up and put it down. I read a lot of self-help books and spiritual ones. Right now, I’m reading a book called Grow Your Value and The Well-Spoken Woman to prepare myself for this new role with the Junior League. I’ll be on a platform for this organization, and whenever I have a challenge coming up, I always want to be ready.
What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a loner. My personality is that of an extrovert, but when it comes down to it, I am a loner. I like to spend time with myself and a book — I even go on dates by myself! I’m all about relationships, but I love alone time.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t tolerate bad habits. That was spoken to me at the right time, and it touched me in such a way that it made me realize that you have to look at what you do and why you do it, and what things in your life aren’t for you, and that includes people. I always ask myself, “Is this good for me? Does this support who I want to be?” If it’s not helpful for me, I get rid of it. It’s a decision I have to make every day. You can’t move towards being better if you tolerate bad habits.
What’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when visiting Memphis?
The Memphis Zoo! I absolutely love the zoo. When we first came here, we were invited to a birthday party at the zoo and I thought, “Man, this is the best zoo I’ve ever seen!” I brought the girls back the next week, and we’ve been coming back ever since. Coming from Mississippi and Nashville, nothing compares to our big and intentional zoo right in the middle of our city.
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be …
The ability to make people keep smiles on their faces. A smile does wonders for your body and for the person you’re smiling at. Smiles are disarming, and I believe everything is about relationships. A smile between two people automatically establishes humanity. A smile shows someone that you’ve seen them and acknowledge them, and you just never know what that smile can do for someone’s day.
What three lighthearted or frivolous things can you not live without?
I don’t know that there’s anything material I couldn’t live without, but I guess I could say a good pair of heels and chocolate. I’m very purposeful about not being a slave to anything, and I try to enjoy everything in moderation.
Thank you, Erica! To learn more about Erica’s work with the Junior League of Memphis, visit jlmemphis.org.
Thanks to Micki Martin for the fabulous photos of Erica!
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