THE EVOLUTION OF A TCF CHAPTER

 

            A year after our daughter died, Peggy and I began attending a small TCF chapter in a town an hour’s drive away. That chapter met on the first Sunday afternoon of each month. After we had attended their meetings for about a year, the chapter leader urged us to start a TCF chapter in Nashville.

The National Office was contacted, a chapter application made and with the help of two other couples we discussed the where and when of chapter meetings. We decided that we wanted to meet on Sunday afternoon so parents would not have to go out on school nights and single mothers would not have to find sitters and drive across town at night. Then, too, parents could drive in from distant towns—some now drive two hours one-way and attend every chapter meeting. They can do that on Sunday afternoon while it wouldn’t be practical for a weeknight meeting.

We wanted to find a meeting place that was neutral. Many chapters meet in churches but we felt that some might be reluctant to attend a meeting in a church. We wanted to avoid meeting in a conference room of a hospital because that might be an uncomfortable setting for some members. We contacted the president of a large centrally located corporation, explained who we were and what we wanted to do and he gave us permission to meet in the company cafeteria. We’ve met there on the second Sunday afternoon of each month since 1987 free of charge. Tables are moved, and chairs are formed into a circle for the first hour, after which we break up into six to eight small sharing groups seated at tables scattered around the cafeteria, each table with a facilitator. It has worked out extremely well.

About eight months after starting the chapter, Peggy and I attended a chapter leadership workshop in another state. One of the leaders there said their chapter’s steering committee plans chapter programs a year in advance. A year in advance! That blew my mind! And a steering committee? How do you form a steering committee? We were doing everything ourselves!

We received information from the National Office on how to form a steering committee. We learned not to ask for volunteers because we might get someone who is not responsible. Rather we would select members who were responsible, willing to work and far enough away from their own grief that they could help others. These individuals were approached and asked to serve on the committee and asked to take some small responsibility for just six months. Most accepted. We guessed that after six months they wouldn’t want to give up their jobs because they would discover that it is healing to be able to help others. We were right. They wanted to keep helping. With a functioning steering committee meeting every other month, even planning programs a year in advance was easy. The committee simply listed the months of the year and brainstormed programs for each month. Not a problem. The committee started meeting at our house for supper after the chapter meeting. We’d all chip in and bring in pizza or fried chicken, fellowship together, talk about that day’s chapter meeting and discuss chapter business. This time together strengthened the committee members’ resolve to keep the chapter strong and growing in its outreach to the newly bereaved and to the community.

Five years passed and we were still chapter leaders. We knew that was not healthy for the chapter. The chapter was entitled to a change. It needed new leadership, new faces, new ideas, but each time we brought up in a steering committee meeting the need for a change in chapter leadership, the committee would always say what a great job we were doing. Any of those committee members was capable of being a chapter leader. Each was picked for the committee because they could be a potential chapter leader. But none of them would voluntarily accept that responsibility. Sound familiar?

In a workshop on leadership transition at a national conference we learned one way to transfer chapter leadership. Not the best way, but an effective way. So at the next steering committee meeting we told the group that as of the first of the month three months in the future we would no longer be their chapter leaders. They would have to pick someone from the committee. They had three months to do it. They were astonished. They wanted to know if we were mad. No, we weren’t mad. Were we leaving the chapter? No, we weren’t leaving the chapter; we were just leaving the chapter leadership role to someone else. They knew we meant what we said so they got busy over the next couple of weeks and at a subsequent meeting elected a new chapter leader—but this time something different was done.

This time the steering committee adopted some simple bylaws that had been received from National which state that the chapter leader serves for two years and that after the two year term, if they are willing and if the steering committee votes to keep them, they can serve for two more years, but no more. Four years is the maximum.

A week or so after we had announced our resignation a member of the steering committee called me at my office and asked to have lunch with me. We met, ate lunch and finally he brought the subject up. He said, “I’ve been thinking about your resignation from chapter leadership.” Oh, I thought, here it comes; he’s going to blast me! Then he said, “What you did was very unselfish.” Yes, he got it! I told him that now he really understood! I told him that people in the past would tell us how we, as chapter leaders, “saved their lives” and that in the future the newly bereaved parents would say that to the new chapter leader. She would be the one they’d look to. They wouldn’t know that we had ever had a leadership role in the chapter and that was just fine with us. She would receive the love from the hurting hearts she helped. And she did. She would receive the healing that comes from helping others. And she did.

Our chapter has had four different sets of leaders over sixteen years. When a chapter leader is in their last year in office, the steering committee knows it needs to start planning for leadership transition. And it does. The transition has always been smooth and each one who has served as chapter leader was thankful for the opportunity to do so. It has been so satisfying to us to see others accept leadership responsibilities because they, too, want the chapter to be a vibrant resource in our community for years to come.

In addition to being a chapter leader I have served as an RC, a member of the National Board, given workshops at conferences and co-chaired a national conference, but one of my most treasured moments of all of my TCF experiences was when I gave up chapter leadership and that steering committee member said, “What you did was very unselfish.”

 

David Gibson

August 9, 2003

 

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