26 July 2011

Reflections on Starting A New AZA Chapter

Having been at BBYO's ILTC recently gave me some consideration about my BBYO experience, primarily because participants would ask me "Were you ever in BBYO?" and, if so, how involved I was. So, I would say I had been and that I was chapter Aleph Mazkir, Aleph Godol and Aleph S'gan followed by Regional Aleph Mazkir and Regional Aleph S'gan, the latter of which are pretty good and in which I expended a good amount of energy. However, what brought a smile to my face was when I described having started my own AZA chapter. Moreover, there was an opportunity one afternoon for participants to go around and talk to staff who had been in BBYO and a particular experience of theirs. I chose to speak about my experience of starting my own chapter. (As an aside, one of the interestingly unforeseen aspects of it was that many of those teens who decided to attend my particular discussions (there were three rotations) were either interested in starting their own chapters, wanted to start another chapter elsewhere in their regions/councils, or wanted to know how to deal with the chapter off of which their chapter had split and there was not such great relations there.)
In speaking about the chapter I started, I realized there were several animating reasons that I did it: 1
) Every week at the same time and the same place at the JCC, the AZA and BBG chapters would have their meetings. While this provided a nice opportunity to meet other BBYOers and there would be the occasional program for everybody to join in, most chapters just had meetings at that time. What Heart of Ohio would do is pretty much have meetings on those evenings and perhaps an occasional program here or there. The problem with that modus operandi is that having meetings is not the point of joining BBYO - they are meant to support the activities (primarily the programming) of the chapter, which are to be more primary. In other words, teens don't want to go to lots of meetings - they want to be involved in activities, programs, etc. We shifted the focus in my new chapter to having programs on a fairly weekly basis on Sunday afternoons and whenever we would have the occasional meeting, we would go and do something afterwards. This approach yielded us having the most programming of any AZA chapter within the region that year, which was satisfying.
2) When I finished my term as Regional Aleph S'gan, I wanted to invest the knowledge and experience of BBYO I had into Heart of Ohio, so I figured the best position would be Aleph Moreh. When elections came around a few weeks after Regional Convention (which I had co-coordinated) and didn't win, I realized that my efforts would be better expended elsewhere. However, not getting elected by the chapter was really reflective not so much of me, but of a pervasive ideology of electing underclassmen in order to give them experience and, more significantly, to give them a better opportunity to make it on to regional board. One problem with this approach is that it sacrifices the chapter for the sake of the individual's gain. Rather than letting members gain experience before getting onto chapter board in order to use their experience or any training (especially LTI or other regional conventions (or ideally CLTC, but not many people from Columbus BBYO went, probably because there was never an established desire for it to be attended)) to bolster their term serving the chapter and, by extension, their chapter, the idea was to get them on board to get "experience". This "experience" was primarily, albeit not exclusively, having been on board and could be used to get onto board for a higher position later on and hopefully regional board. Oftentimes, once elected, these board members wouldn't necessarily know what was to be done due to their lack of training and/or experience. They might get some things accomplished but not as much as otherwise.* Gain experience perhaps through planning programs or on committees and chairs, then through that earn their way on to board with experience. If there are members who are particularly talented or good, they can make it up the ladder, by not giving preference to younger (read: inexperienced and not knowledgeable about BBYO) members
3) Heart of Ohio AZA #55, the chapter in which I had been for my first three and a half years in high school, had members who were primarily in Bexley and got together there and also had their own social networks there, etc. In starting my own chapter, I had known other guys in my town of Gahanna and surrounding areas who would be interested in joining our new chapter.
4) One innovation I made was by rethinking the board positions and duties. Whereas a standard chapter may have an Aleph Godol, an Aleph S'gan, Aleph moreh, Aleph Shaliach, Aleph Gizbor, Aleph Mazkir and Aleph Kohen Godol, I felt that the positions could be a little different and also the duties could be better split up. From this, I merged some positions, resulting in a board that had an Aleph Godol, Aleph S'gan and Aleph Moreh as per usual, and an Aleph Shaliah whose duties were the Jewish programming solely (no community engagement), Aleph Mazkir, whose duties included note-taking and money tracking. Aleph Sofer for the newsletter and website; Aleph Modia, whose job was to inform the members of what's going on in the chapter, inform local media (primarily the local Jewish newspaper) of upcoming events (and past events). These last two were a bit novel in my KIO region and I liked it because it made sense and because I had created it, I felt a special connection to it.
5) A last reason was to set up from the outset certain activities or other practices (such as an annual or semi-annual AIT overnight or chapter convention) that might have received pushback or rejection from an already existing chapter due to "not having done it before". Thus, we were able to get those set up.

The question that I would receive, though, after talking about having set up my own chapter would be "What happened to it? Is it still around?" Sadly, the answer is no. I think it lasted 2-3 years afterward, but ultimately folded. Although, on the one hand, I feel like I had graduated and was no longer in high school and, by extension, AZA, I needed to move on and no longer involve myself with it, I also felt, on the other hand now that I probably could have checked in with the chapter and offered my assistance more than I did. That's life. I didn't have any further involvement with BBYO until
I staffed two KIO RCs (2001 and 2002) and LTI in 2002 as well as international programs in 2002-2004.

* This really occurred originally on account of less than optimal circumstances: prior to my joining Heart of Ohio (in 1995-1996), he chapter had had a very strong senior class and a freshman class. I'm not sure how much the seniors passed along heir knowledge to the freshmen. When I joined the next year, the freshmen who had become sophomores were doing what they could, although they didn't totally have their act together. Less than a month after joining, I became the Aleph Mazkir (really because no one else wanted to take notes at meetings and I was fine with stepping in and doing so (despite never having done so and without any training (as a result, they weren't properly formal or adhere to any particular standards (but hopefully they had the important information)) (later, when I saw how the Regional Aleph Mazkir took notes, I was impressed by how it was done))). While at KIO's Regional Convention that December (1999, which I co-coordinated), I realized we weren't having any programs which was why I had joined in the first place and wanted sports stuff, which was kind of tough with our current chapter make-up, but I realized that we could have a Super Bowl party the following month. So, we did :) By the time the next election came up, I ran for and won Aleph Godol (I did run against someone this time, but I think because I did a good enough job and put in work at Aleph Mazkir), they trusted me to take over (I think they were also largely apathetic, probably largely because they didn't want to have to work on the chapter, having had the seniors run it. Anyways, the following year, it was primarily sophomores and freshmen and a junior here or there, with heavier underclassmen involvement.

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