Featured Region: Florida – Representation with Flair

Written by Diane Powers Harris

When contemplating qualities Regional Representatives should possess, perhaps you envision people who are energetic, enthusiastic, dynamic, creative, with a boatload full of quirky, fun, and unusual ideas. If you chose these attributes, you have just described Florida’s Regional Representatives, Ellen Lindner and Karol Kusmaul. Interviewing Ellen and Karol was delightful and I was impressed by their diligence in unifying Florida. Their enthusiasm was apparent as they discussed continuity by building on past Regional leadership, continuing to nurture strong feelings of camaraderie and friendship. With their own style, they are fulfilling the promise of this evolving Region.

PODs: A concept
Former Representatives Nancy Billings and Jayne Gaskins felt a system was necessary for Florida’s membership to create connections through networking and friendship. To meet this need, in 2012 Nancy and Jayne developed the much-acclaimed POD system (also known now as Local Connections).

After painstakingly plotting each member on a map, they drew circles around clusters of members within reasonable driving distance of each other. They contacted the members in each cluster, asking for volunteers to host introductory POD meetings. The meetings could have as few as two members; they asked for no other commitment. The PODs were left to create their own structure. There were only two rules: that each meeting be open to all SAQA members, and that all meetings had to be announced to the entire region.

Ellen and Karol agree the POD system is successful but concur that it has taken some time to become fully operational. One last POD is just now getting off the ground, but the network has come together. Here’s how the Florida reps make it work.

Best practices for starting and nurturing PODs
POD boundaries are fluid. When membership ebbs and flows, boundaries are re-vamped to accommodate those fluctuations. A couple of PODs have divided into two sections to better facilitate driving times. Mapping is done by volunteers responding to advertisements in the monthly newsletter. Geography is not a constraint; several SAQA members attend more than one POD.

Each POD decides together what is appropriate for the group. Some PODs issue challenges, others employ critiques, plan field trips, as well as search out alternate meeting locales and events. Generally meeting every other month, they typically include a short business meeting, program (often presented by POD members), and Show and Tell. Lunch is sometimes included.

The reps have learned a lot about organizing PODs. The first lesson is that PODs are important to connecting members, even though it can be difficult getting groups together. Secondly, certain areas might not be as active, or become inactive, if another fiber arts group is in that area. Third, and perhaps most unsettling came the significant realization that members’ expectations for a good POD can influence whether or not to renew their SAQA membership!

For successful volunteer participation, Ellen shared Florida’s basic policy: “be warm, welcoming, and appreciative of the workers/volunteers.” Volunteer recognition is provided through public acknowledgment with praise issued verbally and announced in Florida’s monthly newsletter. The reps also hand-write thank you notes to all volunteers on SAQA notecards. In our age of technology, this somewhat outmoded nicety lets volunteers know how appreciated they are. These personal touches have far reaching benefits — members will be more likely to volunteer in the future.

Additionally, they suggest searching for enthusiastic members willing to step up to the plate. At a recent retreat, someone proposed making it an annual event. The Reps had their hands full with two upcoming juried shows, but liked the idea of more retreats. They were surprised at how quickly three volunteers stepped up to take charge. Those three are now busily organizing the retreat. A plus of working together allows friendships to be made while volunteers carry out essential tasks. These friendships create strong bonds as Florida’s members unite in their common goals.

Both Ellen and Karol greatly appreciate Nancy Billings’s and Jayne Gaskins’s fundraising endeavors which created Florida’s generous treasury. This allows scheduling events such as retreats with guest instructor a year in advance with plenty of planning and promotional time.

Leveraging technology to connect
The Florida reps rely on Skype meetings to organize upcoming juried exhibits. Skype meetings are also an effective and efficient means to recruit volunteers. Seeing their reps’ enthusiasm stimulates interest among the membership. The upshot: members readily volunteer for various tasks necessary for successful events. Zoom is also another option to connect virtually.

Calling All Volunteers
Stressing how important a personal approach is when recruiting volunteers, Ellen and Karol announce jobs in the newsletter. At annual regional and POD meetings, a clipboard is circulated detailing assorted tasks for various events. This modus operandi was re-iterated several times to emphasize how essential it is to be specific both in detailing tasks needing oversight as well as what each task entails.

Mailing Lists
Karol emphasized that it’s imperative mailing lists be current and meeting/event dates be listed in the regional newsletter. She has seen lack of communication lessen participation in PODs.

New member info is sent to a volunteer who keeps track of membership using spreadsheets. She sorts new member info and determines which POD is closest. This pertinent info is dispersed to both Reps and relevant POD leader who then sends personal letters of welcome.

Regional Meetings
Each year, at least one and possibly two Regional “Art, Meet, and Greet” full-day meetings are hosted. The day customarily includes combining a short business meeting with attending a fiber exhibit, gallery walk, or enjoying a speaker. Other enticements include the ever popular “show and share,” and social time, which allows members to mingle. Quilters and food are a time-honored combination, so time to enjoy a meal together, which could perhaps be catered sandwich lunches or a sit down at a nice restaurant, is earmarked. “Give-aways” further increase the day’s festivity!

Regional Newsletter/Social Media
Florida’s monthly newsletter does much to enhance statewide camaraderie. To promote community, extensive POD info is included. Individual member “brags” and Calendar of Events alerts are encouraged. Ellen laughingly confided, “including photos in the newsletter encourages members to actually read it!”

Since many are technically savvy these days, social media is a huge draw for sharing information. Posting on the region’s Facebook page as well as Instagram is encouraged, ensuring membership “connectivity” across Florida.

Appreciation/Thank You
Deemed essential, appreciation gifts are routinely presented to volunteers in recognition of their efforts. As mentioned, Ellen and Karol are especially creative when it comes to amusing and unusual thank-you ideas.

One such playful idea is “fabric cookies” which are small fiber art pieces. These were made for an east coast POD to thank them for hosting a regional exhibit. Quite an array of “baked goods” were represented which not only included cookies, but buns and bagels as well!

Fabric Cookies
Fabric Cookies


Final Thoughts
All in all, Ellen and Karol are enthusiastic, affirmative women continually on the lookout for original ideas and events to tempt and captivate Florida’s membership. Thanks to their resourcefulness, earlier retreats featured 1-hour sessions on significant subjects such as surface design, marketing (which might include presentations on Pinterest or artist statements), Photoshop, and myriad other diverse topics. To unwind kinks, a relaxing 10 minute session of chair yoga concluded the day!

Ellen and Karol’s success hasn’t been conceived in a vacuum. With nurturing and “outside the box” forward thinking together with membership reciprocation, these energetic women hold “hands steady at the helm” guiding Florida’s journey. Through friendship and networking, together the members are cultivating the circle of connectivity across the state, keeping it alive and well.

Article written by Diane Powers Harris. Photos provided by Ellen Lindner and Karol Kusmaul.