Famous for its debut in the movie “Saturday Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive” is a song about survival. It’s fitting that this is a story about survival as well.
Our chapter, AV, Prince George, British Columbia, was 53 years young last year – 2023. Many of our early members were friends and neighbors, or members of various churches or community groups. We had a cornucopia of occupations, including nurses, men involved in political and civic activities…the list goes on. There was a broad range of ages, from women in their 20s to seniors.
We were a young active chapter but slowly that gave way to possibly some complacency and maybe a lack of vision. Our numbers started to decline for many reasons. Prince George seemed to be a jumping off spot for young people starting out in business, banking and retail, who then moved on to bigger and better things. For years, we had no P.E.O.s transferring into the chapter. We lost members as families moved away and we lost momentum as members aged together and the gap between the younger and older members widened.
Eventually we found ourselves in a precarious position, barely able to maintain our membership and fill the slate of officers. It was difficult to bring in new members without connections to the community, as well as no visibility as a group who were doing so much to assist women with their educational goals. It was hard to interest women in joining our chapter when no one knew much about P.E.O.
We had many discussions of what we could do and the idea of disbanding was very much looming on the horizon. It finally took a concerted effort—we sat down in a town hall type meeting where we faced that possibility and had an open and honest discussion about the future of our chapter. It boiled down to a case of knowing when to “hold ‘em” and knowing when to “fold ‘em.” Our chapter decided we were not walking or running away!
The overriding feeling was that, aside from not wanting to lose our connection as sisters with each other, we were acutely aware of the influence our chapter had in our community. We were a small group, but through P.E.O., were able to help women with their education. We were absolutely committed to “Stayin’ Alive.” So began the effort to build our chapter. We started with 18 members and after a decline to about eight, are now 22 strong. So what did it take?
WE HAD COMMITMENT—to each other and to supporting women in need of furthering their education. WE HAD CONSIDERATION for each of our sisters who hung in there until we could create a base to build on, even if it meant they had to step back at times to look after priorities in their own lives. WE HAD A CATALYST! (A person or thing that precipitates an event.) One member who, with her enthusiasm, has promoted and talked about P.E.O. anywhere and everywhere she goes.
WE HAD A COMMUNITY whose women needed our help.
Living so far from the rest of our P.E.O. sisters in British Columbia meant WE HAD TO BE CREATIVE, doing what we had to do by changing meeting times, meeting dates and meeting places to accommodate our members changing lives and circumstances. We may have pushed the envelope a bit, but it allowed us to keep going forward. Among other things, we met for many meetings in the home of one of our members who had ALS. As long as she was able, she served as one of our officers and took part in the initiation ceremony. We chucked the long gowns and adopted white tops and black pants to accommodate her in her wheelchair. She lost her fight to ALS but will always remain in our hearts as a symbol of what P.E.O. is really all about.
In short, we did anything and everything we could to find ways to carry on. It’s said that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog. Chapter AV was a little dog with a big fight to stay alive.
Currently our chapter is certainly in the vanguard of P.E.O. members moving forward with new ideas and exciting changes. We have members from at least eight different countries, with different faiths, young entrepreneurs, former and current project recipients, a Cottey grad, members with young children, members who are great grandmothers, and the list goes on.
At present, there is almost 20 years between when I joined the chapter and the next active member. I can’t say enough how heartwarming it is to see our changes and growth.
What I would say to those contemplating disbandment is…sit down and have an open and honest discussion about where you are and why you are considering disbandment. Pull out those old president’s letters and minutes and see how much you have contributed to educating the women in your community; you’ll laugh and cry and remember how much you treasure being together.
Take the five points of the star: Commitment, Consideration, Catalyst, Community and Creativity…and “Stay Alive!”
Roma Tingle, Past President, British Columbia Provincial Chapter
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