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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article

NOW Revitalizes Chapters in Key Areas Across the U.S.

by Barbara Hays, State and Chapter Development Director

The grassroots of NOW rock! NOW chapters and state organizations are filled with some of the most wonderful, hardworking volunteers on the planet. These women and men are often doing NOW work on top of full-time jobs and family responsibilities. The communities and states in which they work are often conservative, so heightening awareness about women's rights can be challenging. Some chapters and states thrive as time goes on, others falter. Almost all experience highs and lows in leadership and membership energy.

"Our year-end review of NOW's chapters helped us identify those in need of pro-active help, and we launched several pilot projects to test what methods work best in rebuilding efforts," explained Kim Gandy, NOW's Executive Vice President. "In addition to working with existing leaders in a state or chapter, we also decided to contact every member in the area in order to find the NOW folks who have moved around, those who aren't currently involved, and new people who have just found us as an organization,"

NOW's first project, New Mexico, began in mid-December when the Action Center mailed a letter to every NOW member in the state, offering to help them set up or rebuild chapters. Based on the responses, Gandy and the Chapter Development staff planned an organizing trip to three cities where the chapters had become inactive and two communities where women wanted to start new chapters. The staff stayed in close touch with the groups all spring, and the project culminated in New Mexico NOW holding its first widely-attended state conference in many years.

The Mid-South Region had similar success after deciding to bring in help for their states and chapters. A letter was mailed to each member in the region, announcing both the project and the region's conference to be held in New Orleans in late March. A 10-day organizing trip through Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama resulted in forming eight new chapters (including Starkville, Miss., and Hot Springs, Ark.) and rebuilding two chapters that had not been active in recent years.

With the help of five summer interns, National NOW has launched projects in collaboration with eight additional state NOW organizations in: Rhode Island, West Virginia, Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Organizing visits are being set up for late summer and fall, and will be announced by a state newsletter sent to each member-produced by the interns. The state newsletters announce the meetings, tout the World March, outline the importance of the fall elections for women's rights and include local news supplied by activists in the targeted states. In addition, some chapters in Virginia and Maryland-located in prime World March organizing areas-are being revived with help from their states and the Chapter and State Development Department.

For each project state or area, Chapter Development staff and interns help volunteers by setting up the organizing meetings, talking them through outreach, calling area members about the event, even assisting with setting up an agenda, if necessary. Then, NOW staff travel to the area to help with the meeting and follow-up. Enthusiasm is high, both in the Action Center and in states enjoying the project's success.

New state president Kate Hill says, "Thanks to you all, the New Mexico NOW freight train has left the station. We're going to be running at top speed very soon, thanks to your stoking the fires."

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