Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

500 Ladies Who Lunch- NCL Tournament Day

Today I went to Tournament Day, an annual fundraising luncheon attended by over 500 women from our community.  The purpose of the fundraising is to support a variety of local charitable organizations and provide college scholarships for girls in need.  Tournament Day is put on by National Charity League (NCL), a national mother/daughter organization that consists of 6 years of commitment to charitable work by both mothers and daughters, plus social activities.  Our chapter, NCL South Coast, was founded in 1962, and at the event today there were a couple of founding members – truly inspirational women who are still active in supporting the chapter.  Our chapter raises more money than any other chapter in the country, and we are proud of that fact.

At first, I was reluctant to join NCL.  I thought it would be too much of a time commitment, and to be honest, I was a little put off by the idea of the presentation ball for my daughter Katie, which happens at the end of the girl’s senior year, and requires each girl to wear a white ball gown with petticoats – a concept I had a hard time taking seriously.  But I went ahead and joined, and it was a terrific decision.  Though Katie wasn’t able to give a lot of time to NCL due to a variety of other commitments, I became an enthusiastic member of the organization…and in fact, chaired Tournament Day my second year, and also served on the board of directors.  I made great new friends, grew closer with women I had already known, and felt that I was doing something to give back to my community.  And to my surprise, the presentation ball was a lovely and enchanting experience, and seeing my daughter all dressed up in her white gown was something really special, despite my inital misgivings. 

I’ve continued to attend Tournament Day each year after my tenure as a member was finished, and it’s always fun to see old friends and enjoy a lady’s lunch, while buying silent auction items and trying to win opportunity drawings (which I never do!).  It’s amazing to see the power of women working together and raising money – anywhere between $80,000 – $100,000 each Tournament Day over the past few years. The generosity and enthusiasm of the women who attend is inspiring, and the amount of hard work and time that goes into putting on the event is huge.

But something happens each year that’s a little unsettling.  As each group of girls graduates, and new, younger women join the organization at the beginning of their daughter’s seventh grade year, The demographic shifts to a younger and younger group. There area fewer and fewer women that I know who are still members. Of course this is the way it should be, the way it has to be – but there’s a bit of melancholy for me in seeing the younger women, and thinking of all they have ahead of them – not just in NCL, but as mothers of teenage girls. It seems like just a minute ago that I was one of the “young” moms, and now I’m definitely not – young – but I wouldn’t go back there for anything.  Katie has grown into such a terrific young woman, and middle school is such torment…I’m glad to be where I am, but wistful that time has gone so quickly.

Katie at presents rehearsal

 One of the most interesting things about NCL is watching the girls in each grade grow and change – it’s fun to compare group photos of the  awkward 7th graders with the later pictures of confident seniors on their way to college.  Some of the girls really embrace the philanthropic activities, finding true reward in helping others, and some of the girls are more enthusiastic about the social aspect of the organization, but overall most of the girls, though they may have grumbled as they were going through it,  wouldn’t have wanted to miss their time as NCL Ticktockers (as the girls are known) for anything.  Though they may not all be close friends, there’s definitely a bond that develops with each group, as they spend time together –  and especially as they prepare for the presentation ball.  One of the most poignant moments comes when the girls gather for the presentation rehearsal, wearing their petticoats and sporting their future college sweatshirts. 

Katie in her white gown – Presents 2008

Sharing an activity like National Charity League is a good thing for mothers and daughters to do through the teen years.  For some teens, there’s very little they want to do with their mothers, and participating in NCL keeps them connected to their moms, if only for a few hours a month.  It’s good for the girls to learn about how difficult life can be for some people, including some of their neighbors and classmates, and it’s important for them to grasp the value of giving back.  But most of all, what I think NCL does for the girls – and some of their mothers, too – is instill confidence.  By participating in something bigger than they are, and seeing how they can make a difference, they realize that they are valuable members of society, not just because of who they are or what they look like or where they live, but because of what they can do for others.  And though the presentation ball may seem like an unnecessary indulgence to those not involved in NCL, it really is a magical night, when the girls are honored for all of their hard work, not just for the hundreds of hours given to NCL but in school, in sports, and in extracurricular activities. It’s impossible to be there, and hear about each girl as their brief bio is read, standing in front of  hundreds of people in their white gowns, and not feel a great sense of pride – in the girls, their mothers, National Charity League –  and a job well done. 


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