Sink or Swim: The Blue Water Chapter's Comeback
When the MARSP Blue Water Chapter’s Executive Board met on July 22, 2022, the topic for discussion was this:
Plans for Fall Meetings & How to Increase Member Participation
In the months leading up to this planning session, we’d seen our chapter meeting attendance hover around 10-12 people. If we excluded chapter officers and regular volunteers from this count, it was clear our efforts to reignite chapter participation post-Covid had so far been fruitless.
The Executive Board members brainstormed – what can we do to bring our local school retirees together again? – and came up with the following four events:
- September: Blue Water Chapter’s
Annual Legislative Event
- October: Leader Dogs for the Blind
- November: Chapter reading book donations and gift wrapping for first
graders at Port Huron Public School.
- December: Chapter donation to DonorsChoose.org, which provides mini-grants to St. Clair and Sanilac county elementary school classrooms.
Given that 2022 was an election year, the Blue Water Chapter’s annual legislative event seemed like an appropriate start to our revitalization efforts.
We strategically chose Monday, September 26, 2022 to hold a candidate forum. This would allow attendees to learn about candidates prior to the delivery of absentee ballots. Don Armstrong, our State Legislative Committee representative, volunteered to take on the enormous task of contacting the August 2 primary winners of our redrawn House and Senate districts. Chapter President, Mary Ecker, handled booking the meeting room and partnered with St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) Student Food Service to have RESA Tec-Ed students prepare and cater lunch for us.
Our efforts paid off! In total, we hosted 50 attendees and 10 candidates representing
both Republican and Democratic parties. Throughout the event, we maintained a professional dialogue on issues important to MARSP’s mission, with candidates answering questions regarding the current and long-term funding of Public-School Pensions and Health Care, and their position on repeal of the tax on pensions for public school employees.
Special acknowledgement to MARSP State Legislative Committee Co-Chair, Chuck Abshagen for attending! Thank you, Chuck!
After a great start with the legislative event, “Leader Dogs for the Blind” in October 2022 added to our meeting momentum.
Ahead of the meeting, we sent 5×7” invitation postcards in September and October to members and friends. As an incentive, we included a free lunch for both meetings and a free drawing for restaurant gift cards. We also distributed flyers and asked local public school retiree groups and area senior groups to inform their members and friends of the meeting.
Again, we saw increased attendance! Leader Dog Team Member, Stephen Moran, accompanied by Retired Ambassador Dog, Emmett, explained guide dog training and client mobility training to an audience of over 40 people. We also learned about the Summer Experience Camp, a unique summer camp for legally blind 16 and 17-year-olds that combines leadership activities with an introduction to guide dogs.
Our Chapter President had our chapter’s donation in-hand, but after such a compelling presentation and audience response, we agreed to double our donation to this worthwhile organization.
In November, volunteers gathered for the annual wrapping of new Scholastic Books for first graders at Port Huron Public Schools. This community project began in the 1960’s with various service organizations making book donations. Our chapter is currently assigned to Michigamme Elementary in Port Huron Township. This year, we wrapped and donated 120 books to Michigamme first graders!
To close out 2022, our chapter approved an award of $750 to the MARSP-endorsed DonorsChoose.org grant program. Blue Water Chapter’s MARSP Area Director, Mike Schichtel, volunteered to head our chapter’s DonorsChoose.org project. Mike presented five grant requests by teachers representing both St. Clair and Sanilac County. Rather than making the difficult choice, the Blue Water Chapter increased this year’s award to $1,250 and granted all five teachers’ requests! Thanks, Mike!
The Blue Water Chapter leaders acknowledge that it will be a long road to return to our pre-COVID meeting participation; but with a positive attitude, creative thinking, and a continued team effort, much can be accomplished!