Liz James’ latest volunteer effort will put her in front of millions. Chosen as one of 8,000 torchbearers who are taking the Olympic flame across the UK to London for the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Liz has a unique story. First, she is a 27-year-old American. Second, she is a Junior Leaguer. And third, her enthusiasm for volunteerism – learned early through her mother’s many years in the Junior League of Greenwich – was a key factor in her becoming a torch bearer.

Here’s her story.

Liz joined the Junior League of London 18 months ago after being transferred there by her employer, Neilsen, a global information and measurement company. Joining JLL was a natural move for Liz. Not only did it put her in touch with other young women, providing a community of shared interests, it also gave her a venue to practice her long-standing commitment to volunteerism. In addition to working on JLL’s poverty initiatives, she participated in the London Paraylmpics Games as part of the Neilsen team and raised money for The Walkabout Foundation to support research to find a cure for paralysis and donate wheelchairs to people in need around the world. And Liz talked up volunteerism as a way to create community impact, a concept that is perhaps more developed in the U.S. than in the U.K., among her colleagues and non-Junior League friends.

So when Neilsen, an Olympics sponsor, was offered two torchbearer slots she applied – along with about 1,500 other Neilsen employees worldwide. And when Liz was selected, after being nominated by six of her colleagues, she discovered that the common theme in the nominations was, in fact, her commitment to volunteerism.

Liz’ story echoes one told by Kathy Rabon of the Junior League of Clearwater-Dunedin.

Now Vice President of Development and Communications at the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, Kathy carried the torch for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Like Liz, her nomination and selection had a lot to do with her Junior League leadership (in fact, her torchbearer duties came just three days after she had stepped down as President of JLCD).

For Kathy, her role as an Olympic torchbearer was one of the most memorable and inspiring moments of her life, with the lasting memory of her children and husband, Bruce, running on the sidewalk beside her waving an Olympic flag.

While being an Olympic torchbearer is a big deal for the individuals chosen, it also reflects a rigorous process. Coca-Cola, the sponsor of the 2012 Summer Games’ torchbearer program, uses a wide range of selection criteria encompassed by these guidelines to select 8,000 torchbearers from a pool of tens of thousands of nominations from around the world:

  • Healthy, Active Living: Do they inspire others to live positively by staying active, making smart choices, and encouraging others to live healthy, active lifestyles?
  • Community: Do they strive to make a positive difference in communities near and far?
  • Environment: Are they active in recycling, sustainability or conservation programs that help the planet?

Sounds like a checklist for the way Leagues look to create lasting community impact with programs addressing children’s health and nutrition, self-esteem, foster care, human trafficking and green issues.

Do you know a Junior League member with an Olympic torchbearer story to tell? Just post it on the AJLI Facebook page!