As we approach the end of the year and I reflect back on all that transpired in 2011, I realize it was a tumultuous year marked by a dizzying array of contradictions—de-stabilizing conflicts both political and financial followed by glimmers of hope for basic human rights like peace and civil liberty. The contradictions ran the gamut from the continuing turmoil following the Arab Spring to watching the joy on the faces of many families as troops return from Iraq, from major losses to dramatic gains in the world’s stock markets, from the isolating impact of unemployment to the surge of connectivity through social media and the next generation of smartphones and tablets, and from unprecedented numbers of families relying on food banks to retail’s biggest Cyber Monday ever. All this commotion is unsettling to say the least—and it looks as though 2012 may well bring more of the same, which is not a very promising message for the holiday season when we all yearn for a sense a balance and a feeling of connection and unity.

One thing I know for sure amidst all this confusion, however, is that there is one constant: the women of The Junior League don’t take a holiday. They work tirelessly 365 days a year to improve the lives of those in need, putting aside their own obligations in the service of others, whether by mentoring young girls from broken homes, educating poor families on how to prepare healthy meals, or advocating for an end to human trafficking. It’s comforting to know that the noble tradition begun 110 years ago by an educated young woman with a social conscience has not languished but in fact has flourished thanks to the hard work of 155,000 motivated civic and community leaders who don’t wilt in the face of a difficult problem but instead take it as an opportunity to exercise their initiative and develop a sustainable solution.

That’s why for me, the return to something as straightforward and tradition-bound as volunteering during the holidays is so centering and calming. I’m sure that over Thanksgiving many of you helped out at food pantries and shelters, and I know that many of us donated canned goods and other necessities at our winter GMMs—or organized community-wide collections of winter coats, toys, or food. This past weekend, like many of you, I participated in an activity that has become a special tradition in my League: wrapping gifts and distributing them along with donated food to 93 children in 52 families in need. Decked out in a red sweater and my fuzzy deer antlers so that I wouldn’t scare mothers and children as I knocked on their doors (or maybe I did scare them!), I served as a driver and distributor of toys and groceries to struggling families all over Brooklyn. It was a simple act, but seeing the smiles on those children’s faces—and hearing them laugh and getting their hugs—resonated with me and made me glad I had given up my usual Sunday ritual of “Meet the Press” and another dose of global gloom.

Times are not easy for many as we head into 2012. I am going to keep this past weekend in my heart and in my mind and remember that in challenging times, simple acts of compassion and generosity can be even more important and meaningful. I am so proud to serve as the Executive Director of an organization of women who perform acts of kindness every day of the year, and who in their unwavering commitment to improving society by serving others, show a generosity of spirit that without question makes the world a better place. You show the world that good works shouldn’t be confined to the holiday season.

I wish all of you a simply wonderful holiday full of good health, lots of laughter, and plenty of big hugs— just like the ones I was lucky enough to receive last weekend.

Susan E. Danish
Executive Director
The Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc.