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More than just a day in May…

While wandering through a bookstore (yes, a few still exist) yesterday, I came across a very cool display that featured best-sellers from the month of March over the last 50 years. The best seller in March 1962 was Seven Days in May (I didn’t know the terrific movie of the same name starring Kirk Douglas was based on the novel). Seeing the number “7” and the word “May” made me take note that JOIN HANDS DAY – the fraternal system’s national day of service – is scheduled for Saturday, May 7, 2011.

I’m coming up on my three-year anniversary with the American Fraternal Alliance, and during my tenure there hasn’t been a week when I haven’t thought about what JOIN HANDS DAY could be if every Alliance society made the effort to engage their members in a community service activity – ideally one that invoked the original intent of the event and facilitated volunteerism in partnership with young people and youth organizations. Right now, JOIN HANDS DAY is a sleeping giant; it’s got loads of potential community service, public affairs and political value, but we’re just not tapping in to that vast reservoir of good will and good works.

The Alliance Board of Directors believes that we need to take a hard look at the way JOIN HANDS DAY is structured so that we can take advantage of one of the cornerstone principals and unique characteristics of the fraternal system – volunteerism and community service activities that allow societies to fill the gaps in state and federal government safety nets in a wide variety of ways all around the country.  And who better to put in charge of this project than the leadership of the Fraternal and Communications Sections – the people that eat, breathe and sleep fraternalism in their societies every day?

The Section leaders held their first organizing call last week and plan to meet again in person at the Fraternal and Communications Sections meeting next month. This group is being assisted by Alliance staff and our retained public affairs consultants – the same folks that helped us with the development of the Alliance brand name, logo, and tagline. During our initial call, we talked about creating themes for service projects to be conducted on JOIN HANDS DAY that all societies could rally around – feeding the hungry, helping military families, supporting educational and athletic programs in public and private schools, assisting groups that serve the mentally and physically challenged. We also talked about expanding the event from a day of service to a week or more, and tying it in more closely with the new American Fraternal Alliance brand identity.

There are many other items and issues to consider. And we’d like to hear what you think the Fraternal and Communications Sections leaders should take into account at their next meeting. You can voice your opinions right here on the blog or email them to me directly at jannotti@fraternalalliance.org. Come on now, I know you’ve got some great ideas that we can use to maximize the value of JOIN HANDS DAY for your society and the fraternal system – or maybe you think we shouldn’t invest any more time, energy and effort into the event. Either way, we want to hear from you. This is your chance to influence the outcome of one of the most important initiatives your association will undertake this year.

Not exactly a day of service, but certainly a day to recognize the power of fraternalism…

I went to my first-ever Pulaski Day celebration at the Polish Heritage Museum located in the same building as the Polish Roman Catholic Union, an Alliance member society. Other Chicago-headquartered, Polish-based Alliance members – the Polish National Alliance and the Polish Women’s Alliance of America – played an instrumental role in the event, as well.

Not familiar with Pulaski Day? Casimir Pulaski was a Polish military officer who fought for the young American nation in the Revolutionary War. He is known as “the Father of the American Cavalry” and was mortally wounded while leading his troops against the British in the Battle of Savannah. Given Chicago’s enormous Polish population, the celebration marking Pulaski’s birthday is a very big deal. Most city and suburban schools are closed and every local, state, and federal politico gladly accepts their invitations to participate in the wreath-laying ceremony. The event also generates significant financial contributions from local businesses –banks, grocery stores, etc. – for the Polish museum, and a number of scholarships to local college students are awarded.

This year’s event featured remarks from U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and a host of other state legislators and city aldermen. It was as impressive a lineup of dignitaries as I’ve ever seen and they were there for one reason – because Polish-Americans in Chicago are one of the most engaged constituencies in the region, i.e. THEY VOTE (and in Chicago, that means early and often).

It got me to thinking, what if our fraternal constituencies in other cities and states could mobilize as effectively as Chicago’s Polish community? We could become a much more respected political force – and ensure the long-term preservation of our tax-exempt status – in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Texas. All it would take is a commitment to enhance and expand the good works we do (as demonstrated on JOIN HANDS DAY and throughout the year, tell people (especially public policymakers) about those good works, and verify that members of fraternals show up on the first Tuesday in November (which, given the demographics of our members, is almost certainly the case).

I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can work together to harness our political clout.  Post your comments here…

Fraternals in prime time…

Just in case you didn’t catch it, this show on NBC featured Lionel Richie discovering his family history—including a great grandfather who headed an African American fraternal organization called the Knights of Wise Men. Here is the explanation of the role that fraternal played in history. Enjoy.

One Response

  1. It is difficult for any small lodge to make any kind of impact with a dozen volunteers even though they are working just a hard. If all Alliance member societies in a given area pulled together for a combined project this could have some value, just as the Polish Alliance members societies did in your story. Three or four small societies doing 3 or 4 projects have no impact at all.

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