Tabitha Glenn has always nurtured a passion for telling the stories that make a difference in the lives of others. As Executive Director of ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, she gets to tell life-changing stories to a global audience of generous donors. Looking for a way to channel her passion for benefitting others at a local level, she learned about the Junior League of Memphis (JLM) from colleagues, and she decided to give it a try. This year, she celebrates her 10th year with the organization by becoming its 82nd president-elect. She will take the gavel on June 1, 2020, and serve until 2022 — the year JLM turns 100. “Shortly after the first of the year, we will have a very big announcement of how we are going to celebrate our 100th anniversary and what we are going to be giving back to the community,” Tabitha says. Join us as we find out more about this charming and dynamic FACE of Memphis!
Where are you from originally? What brought you to Memphis?
I was born in a small town in Northeast Arkansas, and my family moved to Little Rock when I was very young. I got my undergraduate degree at Arkansas State University, and that’s where I met a boy! Together we picked Memphis as the place where we wanted to lay down our roots.
When did you know JLM was the right place for you?
I was volunteering at the Salvation Army Perdue Center of Hope, a transitional and rehabilitative shelter for women. It was probably 20 degrees outside, and I remember thinking, Do I really need to be here? Is this really helping anyone? I could be at home in my sweats watching TV! Just about then I heard my name called from across the room. It was someone I’d met in my professional capacity at ALSAC, who was receiving help at the center. She came up and thanked me for being there, and told me how grateful she was for the League’s help. I knew then that I was in the right spot.
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What does JLM offer that women may not be aware of?
The League is probably one of our city’s most under-utilized resources for women who want to learn and grow professionally. Our mission is three-pronged: volunteerism, developing the potential of women, and serving communities. We’ve got the volunteerism down pat. The League devotes 30,000 to 35,000 hours a year to the community. But 90% of our membership works, so we have shifted our focus slightly to give our members what they need. We offer programs to help develop leadership skills in a safe, nurturing environment with access to local experts.
One great program is LEAD, an eight-week program specifically for emerging non-profit leaders. A second is the Memphis Women’s Summit, a day-long program of learning with amazing keynote speakers. I can’t announce the speaker for February’s summit yet, but last year we had Olympic medalist Dominique Dawes, Erin Brockovich the year before, and this year’s speaker promises to be just as incredible.
You are transitioning to president this year and will serve in that role for two years. What will be your platform as president?
I want to focus on women in leadership. Leadership today looks nothing like the leadership of yesterday when it was more about management, very autocratic and focused on giving directions. Leadership today exists in more of a gray area, not as easily conformed to one right way or right answer. Today, we develop a person by asking questions and getting them to find their own answers rather than dictating to them.
Some very wise people told me that change is the only constant, especially nowadays. People who are comfortable in the gray — comfortable in uncertainty — are the people who will be truly successful going forward. That’s easy to say and not so easy to do! But it’s the world we live in, and I want women to be prepared for it.
In addition to teaching women how to be authentic leaders, I want women to help each other learn and grow by building each other up. I want to focus on helping each other through support, not criticism.
Apart from the huge reward of being a part of the mission of St. Jude to find cures and save children, what do you love most about working at ALSAC?
I love leading with purpose at ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
I love that we are not only allowed but encouraged to volunteer in the community, and supported so we can serve in roles like president of Junior League. Every year during our National Training Meeting, all 1,600 of the staff, including the executive leadership, go out to serve community non-profits, wearing our “ALSAC Cares” t-shirts. I love that our cafeteria was intentionally designed for everyone to eat together in one place — doctors, patients, parents, everyone. If you are having what you think is a bad day, you can sit and watch what you are working for all around you. You truly see the recipients of your work — it gives great perspective.
I love that the research we do is freely shared all over the world, that cure rates have gone from 20% to 80%, and that our strategic focus is on raising the rates even higher. The lights are always on at St. Jude because people are working around the clock. It’s a lot to be proud of.
What changes are in store for you at work?
My entire 20 years at ALSAC has been in the direct marketing division. I equate it to storytelling through mass marketing — TV, direct mail and online. Recently I was asked to take my direct marketing knowledge and form a new team that is focused on more audience-centric storytelling. Going forward, we will be working on telling stories that are more personalized and relevant to specific donor audiences. It will still be mass marketing, but more tailored and appropriate to a selected segment of our audience, rather than one message going to the entire group of 11 million active donors.
What do you do for fun?
My husband and I rescue fur babies. We have three dogs that we just love.
We are also huge Chip and Joanna Gaines fans. Chip and Jojo were on my bucket list to meet, and I did get that opportunity when they redid our dining room at the Target House. They were lovely, authentic people! I also participated in the Silos’ half-marathon, and Chip photo-bombed my husband and me as we took a selfie. I posted that one on Facebook.
I love a good DIY decorating project, especially when I can use shiplap. I have shiplap in four rooms in my house. I’ve even shiplapped a ceiling.
When you have visitors to Memphis, where do you take them?
We take them on a foodie tour or an upcycling tour. Where we go on the foodie tour depends on what kind of BBQ our guests like — vinegar or smoke. My favorite is vinegar-based. For our upcycling tour, we’ll go to Southern Vintage or Sheffield’s to buy cool found items and turn them into something. I recently bought springs from a couch and turned them into a bulletin board.
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What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My husband keeps me grounded. Whenever I’m stressed or worried, he always tells me, “Just be you.” It reminds me to be authentic and real. The minute you lose that authenticity, you’ve lost everything.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Chip and Jo, my tennis shoes and Muddy’s Pucker Up cupcakes
Thank you, Tabitha, for the interview. And thank you to Abbey Bratcher for the great photos!
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