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Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Juliet Christenson knows how to win friends and influence people, both on the job and off.

Director of Product Strategy and Development at Rock Island-based Royal Neighbors of America, she will be honored Wednesday, Oct. 13 as a Woman of Influence by Women Lead Change (WLC) for the 2021 Leadership Awards, as part of the WLC Quad Cities Conference at the Waterfront Convention Center, Bettendorf. The Women of Influence honorees are one of two new categories along with Emerging Leaders.

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Christenson, seen recently at the Royal Neighbors headquarters in downtown
Rock Island, will be honored Oct. 13 with a Women of Influence award.

The 2021 award winners are:

ATHENA Leadership Award Honoree, sponsored by Bank of America —

** Elaine Kresse, Retired Educator (31 years teaching for the Davenport Community School District) and Community Activist

Women of Influence Award Honorees, sponsored by Lexus —

** Katie Castillo-Wilson, Founder & CEO, TapOnIt

** Juliet Christenson, Director, Product Strategy and Development, Royal Neighbors of America

** Katie Marchik, Senior Vice President/Chief Financial Officer, UnityPoint Health-Trinity

** Jazmin Newton-Butt, Attorney at Law, Newton Law PLC

** Monica Smith, Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Augustana College

** Sarah Stevens, Community Impact Officer, The Beautifull Project

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Haley DeGreve

Emerging Leader Award Honorees, sponsored by Quad City Bank & Trust —

** Haley DeGreve, Communication Specialist, John Deere

** Alanna Rumler, Certified Financial Planner, Northwestern Mutual

The Women of Influence Award goes to female leaders ages 30-59 who:

  • Demonstrates excellence, creativity, and initiative in her business or profession.
  • Has made a lasting impact on the community through civic, nonprofit, philanthropic and/or volunteer engagement.
  • Is a role model for other women. Assists other women on their leadership path.

“Juliet’s data-driven decisions, strategic oversight, and leadership capabilities have greatly contributed to both cultural growth and business development at Royal Neighbors,” RNA vice president Curt Zeck said of Christenson. “And for over 30 years, she has truly lived the Royal Neighbors mission of empowering women and supporting communities through leadership, volunteerism, and her commitment to the prosperity of her community.”

“Every organization wants a volunteer like Juliet,” said Amy Jones, director of philanthropy for Royal Neighbors. “She takes on leadership roles and pushes strategic conversation. She is accountable to her role – and she inspires others to be involved.” Jones was one of several women who nominated Christenson to be honored.

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Darcy Smith, senior members engagement specialist, wrote that Christenson was just starting her career when she was hired to work with

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Juliet Christenson is a 50-year-old Rock Island native who’s spent her whole career so far at Royal Neighbors.

Smith.

“I have had the personal pleasure to watch her grow and advance in each role she successfully tackles at our company. Juliet has mentored many employees along the way. No matter which role she is filling — she always does it with drive and passion,” Smith wrote. “Currently, Juliet is diligently leading our product development team. While this position involves many hours (many times away from home), Juliet still finds time to give back to our community.”

Christenson spends countless hours counseling women for Family Resources, her co-worker said. “This was not a simple volunteer commitment on Juliet’s part, but one which took many hours of training to ensure she could successfully assist women in abusive situations get to a better place in their lives. Juliet also currently sits on their board of directors.

“It’s no surprise that Juliet usually earns the honor of having the most volunteer hours at Royal Neighbors each year,” Smith wrote. “She always leads by example, and mentors other employees to follow. We are proud to have her as part of our team and hope you will consider her for this prestigious honor.”

Her whole professional life at Royal Neighbors

A 50-year-old Rock Island native (and Alleman High alum), Christenson’s career at Royal Neighbors of America spans three decades. Founded in Rock Island in 1895, the company has long had a reputation of people working for them for a long period (including their whole careers), she said recently.

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Royal Neighbors is headquartered at 230 16th St., Rock Island.

“That was something that appealed to me – they must have a great culture. They must treat their employees well,” she said. “That’s something that drew me to the organization, plus the mission and the vision, working in the community.”

Royal Neighbors (based at 230 16th St., Rock Island) is a unique provider of life insurance and annuities whose mission is to protect women financially and empower them to improve their lives, families, and communities. Royal Neighbors was founded as a membership organization by nine pioneering women who recognized the need to insure the lives of women and children.

In 2020, RNA al Neighbors was upgraded to “A Excellent” (3rd highest out of 13) by the AM Best Company for overall financial strength and ability to meet ongoing obligations to certificate holders.

Its history as a women-led organization was very important for a young Christenson.

“Just recognizing, we still have a long way to go, but this organization was founded by women who thought that women had the right to be insured – just standing up for women’s rights,” she said. “And having a history of representing women in society.”

Last year, the company not only celebrated its 125th anniversary, but also the 100th anniversary of the right for most women to vote in the U.S. It was among the first women-led insurers that supported suffrage when it was founded in 1895, 25 years before the women’s right to vote was ratified. The company’s early members were active in supporting the suffrage movement from its initial days through the signing of

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Founded in 1895, RNA is a provider of life insurance and annuities whose mission is to protect women financially and empower them to improve their lives, families, and communities.

the 19th Amendment – and in 2020, it sponsored a Putnam Museum exhibit on women’s suffrage.

Christenson and her husband have two sons, ages 33 and 26, who both live in the area. Her older son Zachariah is married, and they have one dog but no children.

Most recently, Christenson is a leader within the organization’s growth area, where she manages strategic product planning and the product development lifecycle for life, annuity, and health product portfolios. In 2012, Christenson was named the Royal Neighbors Employee of the Year. As a constant pursuer of knowledge and growth, Christenson has also earned numerous professional designations.

It’s been very satisfying for her to grow and move up within the company, she said.

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“You have a lot of opportunities, to wear a lot of different hats,” Christenson said. “It helps you learn about other areas of the organization,

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Royal Neighbors vice president Curt Zeck, with Jodie Barton (executive director of New Kingdom Trailriders) and NKT volunteer of the year Christine Engebrecht, after being presented with a $10,000 Nation of Neighbors award.

and helps you become a well-rounded employee and continue on your career path within the organization.”

She’s been in her current job since 2015, after spending the greatest part of her career in information technology for RNA.

“I started in our file room, with the goal to be in our IT department,” Christenson said, noting she was involved in product development from a technology perspective first. When they develop products, there are different platforms they are applied to, with different systems.

“Helping put those products in those technologies, and understanding their capabilities, and how we can best design a product, to move through our system most efficiently and quickly,” Christenson said.

As RNA grew in members, its revenues have bloomed, allowing more money to fund their philanthropic mission, she said. “We’re able to do more in our community.”

Volunteerism is key in and outside the company

Christenson lives the Royal Neighbors commitment to volunteerism and philanthropy, including serving as president of Rock Island Little League and other baseball organizations, and involved with the John Deere Classic for many years. She works as an “out-call advocate” for Family Resources, where she goes to the emergency room when a woman presents as a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence.

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Women Lead Change is a national nonprofit dedicated to the development, advancement and promotion of women, their organizations and their impact on the economy.

“Just to be there for them, to let them know what things are available to them, and kind of how the processes work and be an advocate for their rights while they’re there,” Christenson said. “That led me to become a volunteer board member for Family Resources. I’m so passionate about what I’m doing for them as an out-call advocate, I wanted to help set the direction of the organization and what we’re doing in the community.”

She started volunteering for the nonprofit in 2016 and became a board member in 2018. Sometimes, she could get five or six calls on a weekend, or get no calls, Christenson said. “It’s definitely something you wish our community didn’t need, but you’re glad to be there for someone in that situation.”

She picked Family Resources after attending an awareness luncheon, which really spoke to her, she said. “I just reached out to them and started volunteering.”

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Girls Rock! — a Des Moines program that empowers girls through music, education and performance opportunities — is among the 10 new Nation of Neighbors winners.

It really helps women “know that they’re believed,” Christenson said. “That they’re not alone, and there are community services that can help them get through what they’re going through.”

Through Royal Neighbors, she’s been active volunteering with local chapters, which each choose volunteer project and causes to support – including planting gardens and cleaning up parks.

Christenson is a great admirer of the company’s 14-year-old Nation of Neighbors program, which has extended the philanthropic mission by awarding $2.5 million in grants since 2007.

“I know that we have contributed millions of dollars over the years,” she said. “Our other programs are also well used.”

Christenson has been active with the John Deere Classic caddie committee – taking care of their needs through the PGA tournament each summer, including meals, equipment, places to work out, and services. She is a golfer herself, was a fan of the JDC for years, and her husband volunteered for the committee long before she got involved.

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“I got involved, because this is a great thing to do, to get involved and give back to the community,” she said. “It’s also fun at the same time. You build some new friendships, meet some new people.”

Christenson also is impressed that the JDC’s “Birdies for Charity” program ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour in per-capita giving — since 1971, the

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

The keynote speaker for the WLC Quad-Cities conference is Jenn Lim, CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness. She’ll speak on how authentic leaders prioritize purpose and people for growth and impact.

Classic has raised over $133 million to regional charities.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into that,” she said. “It’s a great community, the Quad-Cities is a great, giving community. They’re always open and willing to help.”

Christenson has enjoyed being mentored at Royal Neighbors, as well as mentoring others. “I feel I’ve been here long enough and understand those things, and anything I know, I like to share with people. I just feel Royal Neighbors is a great place to be, and if I can make it easy and a good place for everyone, that’s what I want to do.”

She’s also been co-chairing a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) culture team at RNA, since early 2021. “We are all about creating and promoting activities around diversity and inclusion,” Christenson said, noting they’ve done unconscious bias training and hosted different activities. They have celebrated Juneteenth, Veterans Day, and other cultural holidays.

She has been influenced to hire a broader variety of staff within the organization. “It really just helps you in your day-to-day function that you do,” Christenson said of improving DEI. Unconscious bias refers how people recognize patterns, and the need to remove that unconscious filtering or stereotyping people practice.

“It’s being aware of it and adjusting your thoughts and behaviors,” she said.

Ten new Nation of Neighbors awards

Royal Neighbors recently awarded 10 Nation of Neighbors empowerment awards to 10 women who are making a difference in the lives of women and/or girls. Each recipient also received $10,000 for the non-profit they are leading or supporting through their efforts. To date, more than $2.5 million has been awarded from this program which serves as the organization’s signature women’s empowerment program.

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Cynthia Tidwell is the president/CEO of Royal Neighbors of America.

“Our Nation of Neighbors award and grant recipients each possess a unique and meaningful purpose,” said Cynthia Tidwell, RNA president and CEO. “We’re incredibly inspired by their leadership and drive to contribute to the stability, growth, and well-being of every neighbor,” she added. “This is one of the many ways we help women and girls improve their communities.”

Nation of Neighbors gives financial assistance to nominated individuals who plan to start or expand a business, organization, program, or nonprofit that helps women and/or girls in their community. Royal Neighbors’ Beneficial Members, Chapter Leaders, and Agents nominate leaders who are doing extraordinary things in their

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Amy Jones, the Royal Neighbors director of philanthropy, volunteers for the RNA Difference Makers Fund, which helps offset the cost of volunteer projects.

communities. The 2021 award recipients include:

  • Brenda Rose, Guthrie Center, IA – Firefly Creek Ranch
  • Ashley Vaala, Vincent, IA – The Lotus Community Project
  • Rachel Gulick, Clive, IA – Girls Rock! Des Moines
  • Pam Frasco, Cleveland, OH – Project NICU
  • Molly Murphy, Coconut Creek, FL – Equine Assisted Therapies
  • Jodie Barton, Sherrard, IL – New Kingdom Trailriders
  • Erin Hottenstein, Pikes Peak, CO – Colorado 50-50
  • Regina Fitzpatrick, Spotswood, NJ – Community Hope Ministries
  • Rita Caviness, Muskegon, MI – The Hope Project
  • Briana Huber, Rock Island, IL – Her20

“We wouldn’t be able to do so much good without a successful business,” Tidwell said. “But our thriving business and financial strength are just part of our differentiation. For 126 years, Royal Neighbors has been able to support local communities across America through volunteerism, local philanthropy, and improving the lives of our Members through the many programs we provide.”

ATHENA awards Wednesday

The ATHENA Awards Luncheon is presented by Women Lead Change, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement, development and promotion of women, their organizations and to impacting the economy and future workforce. The group has given out the ATHENA awards in the Quad-Cities since 2006.

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

Jodie Barton of New Kingdom Trailriders, during the Oct. 2 Nation of Neighbors ceremony.

Last year’s overall ATHENA winner was Heidi Huiskamp Collins, founder and CEO of Huiskamp Collins Investments, LLC. Women Lead Change decided to open new categories for awards this year to honor more women, said Amy Eaton, director of marketing and strategic development.

The ATHENA Leadership Award is intended to honor women according to:

  • Notable successes in her chosen field
    • Has made a lasting impact on her community through civic, nonprofit, philanthropic and/or volunteer engagement
    • Has a personal and professional reputation showing high integrity and ethical standards
    • Is a role model for other women
    • Actively assists women in achieving their full leadership potential

The Emerging Leaders Award (for women ages 18-29) criteria are:

  • Involvement with civic and nonprofit organizations
    • Has a personal and/or professional reputation showing high integrity and ethical standards
    • Is a role model for other women through achievements and ethical standards
    • Continues to advance in her chosen field and/or is moving into further leadership positions in the community

For more information, visit www.wlcglobal.org/services/athena-awards. For more information about Royal Neighbors of America, visit royalneighbors.org.

Royal Neighbors Veteran Juliet Christenson Honored as 2021 Woman of Influence

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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