compiled by Ardis Bazyn, ACB Membership Committee Chair
The topic of the last focus call was “How to Start a Chapter in a State or Special-Interest Affiliate.” Danette Dixon became diabetic and didn’t know how best to handle her new situation. She immediately saw a good reason to start a local Washington state Diabetics in Action chapter. She wanted to learn how to advocate for herself and have the support of other blind people who knew more than she did. She learned it was good to have a mentor to assist her.
When first starting a new chapter, it’s important to contact as many individuals as possible and mention the possibility on several email lists. This will help in engaging interested members for a new chapter. If you can find a seasoned ACB member to work with your fledgling chapter, it would be a great benefit to you. When promoting a possible chapter, explain all likely benefits.
Teresa Gregg explained why Iowa decided to start a statewide chapter because of the transportation problems between various cities. It differs from a local chapter because all meetings have to be via a conference line or the Zoom platform. When starting this statewide chapter, the first step was to call/email current at large members to assess their interest level. They decided how often they wished to meet, how they meet (Zoom or conference call system), and what they liked meetings to accomplish. Members then chose officers. This can be handled whenever your chapter wishes to become official. Then, you can collect dues from interested members and start a bank account.
Charis Austin told how they started the Michigan statewide chapter. When enough members were interested, they set the first meeting. They then decided times/dates, how to meet (conference call or Zoom call), and whether members wanted speakers or programs. When formed, they initiated affiliation with their state organization.
Once more than the minimum number of members needed to create a chapter were committed, Frank Welte said the group needed to determine the process for getting your chapter approved and affiliated. The process of writing the constitution in order to meet parent organization(s) requirements might take some time. Check your state constitution and bylaws to determine requirements for a new chapter. If you are starting a statewide special-interest chapter/affiliate, you will need to check your national special-interest constitution and bylaws to learn their requirements as well. These will likely include: minimum number of members, what officers are needed, chapter constitution complying to parent organization(s), and paid dues with membership list.
Betsy Grenevitch talked about the Georgia statewide chapter and how it differs from a voting chapter of an affiliate. The chapter made the decision to just be a support chapter and not to get approved as a voting chapter. Most of their members were not interested in the business or politics of the organization. They just wanted to meet and learn more about each other and blindness-related topics.
After a chapter has its charter, you can work on ways to keep your chapter viable such as regular board meetings, fundraising, etc. If you work with more experienced members in other chapters or in ACB, you can gain more insight into how to remain a positive network of blind members.