I can't precisely remember how I got involved initially, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with being appointed as recording secretary for our neighbourhood association's monthly meetings.
We met in a church social room with fellow neighbours who were concerned about the transition of our depressed older neighbourhood (most homes, including ours, were built in the late 1800's and early 1900's), where some pristine homes were next door to dilapidated rental units with absentee landlords, or had vacant lots that became temporary illegal dump sites demanding immediate attention. We'd lost some key businesses in the area -- most significantly, the cattle stockyards -- and the ripple effect was felt both economically and culturally. The area was changing, but we felt that we were on the cusp of the renaissance of South Omaha, and looked forward being part of a positive change with our growing family.
Most of the members of the association were retired senior citizens who were long-time homeowners. We were on the opposite end of the spectrum when we arrived a few years earlier. We were in our twenties, had two small boys and more on the way, and had just bought our first home that needed significant repairs and improvements -- none of which we knew how or could afford to undertake. But we were a happy, if at times chaotic, home and we were on track with a good life plan.
I remember that one of the senior women in the association asked me to join her at one of her upcoming meetings across town for the National Association of Parliamentarians (NAP), so I could be the best possible recording secretary for the meetings. I remembered using Robert's Rules of Order back in high school when Stephen and I were part of the Model United Nations Club, and later on committees in college, so I was at least familiar with how a meeting should run and how minutes should be recorded. And so I accepted. She drove us both in her Crown Victoria to the country-club reception room where the NAP meeting was filled with about 25 older men and women all dressed in business attire. They were attending to a speaker who was addressing the ways to make an amendment to a motion after it had been moved and seconded, according to Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised.
Then the entire group was quickly rearranged, and got engaged in a spirited mock meeting led by an authoritative ruddy-faced chairwoman wearing a polyester pant suit and fake pearls who enthusiastically employed flip charts, an extendable pointer, fat magic markers writing in black and crossing out in red, and a large, solid, mahogany gavel. She guided select members who had been given a small scrap of paper telling them what to call out when prompted. Some were purposeful distractions which were immediately called to order, others were additions and amendments to the original motion which required a precise orchestration of protocol to be addressed, and some were points of personal privilege, calling for a vote, or a variety of parliamentary procedures to bring a mock resolution to final approval or rejection. Each action provided a lesson within a lesson on how to properly run a meeting and get stuff DONE, impartially and without prejudice.
They had me immediately with "The chairman has not recognized you to speak, sir, sit down!" I think it was the NAP's version of "You can't handle the truth!" I was completely and utterly enamoured with the entire process. There were rules, and people had to follow them. No room for confusion, self-doubt, no letting a blow-hard take over a meeting, or someone bully a topic or disrupt the agenda. Oh Robert, you and I were about to become very good friends.
So with elderly Mrs. Anderson, I'd attended a few meetings, earnest with enthusiasm and interest. At one meeting the group ceremoniously presented me with an expensive (for me) fat edition of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, sending me home with a few minor homework assignments.
But one time I had to cancel. There was a scheduling conflict with the neighbourhood gal who was babysitting for me, and I wasn't able to get away for the next meetings and lessons. But this group made sure to hire another responsible mother, and even paid for her services to ensure that I'd be able to attend in the future. They arranged it all for me. So I continued to go.
The lesson meetings were wonderful, efficient, tidy. Everything that was accomplished was done methodically, without frustration, and with reason. And before I knew it, after a few months I was standing in front of 13 members of the group leading my own mock meeting and hearing murmurs of "she'd have no problem with the testing", "waive fees" "extra tutorials".
The next thing I knew, I was given study guides, a NAP membership card, and a 3-ring binder of booklets to take home with a plastic laminated quick-reference guide for handling motions and amendments. Even the materials were efficient, and I carried them with pride to another NAP member's house in the affluent neighborhood of Dundee, where we sipped iced tea in her opulent sun porch while she circled my notes with her gold-plated Cross™ pen. It finally dawned on me that I was being groomed for the Parliamentary Law exams to become a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. They want me to actually accomplish something more; I would have credentials!
But then life suddenly got very hectic in those early years. The youngest of our four, Olivia, became seriously ill and required our undivided attention; we eventually had to move to another city; I had to stop going to the meetings and lessons, resign from the neighbourhood association, and we uprooted from our life in Omaha for a little while. My group of mentors was very understanding.
It wasn't until just recently, that it occurred to me that these mature, senior women (and men) probably saw me as a good candidate to 'become something' under their guidance, and support. There I was, a young woman with a gaggle of small children in a run-down area of town in a 'fixer-upper' home, with no extended family or other support system. Someone who they probably saw going nowhere fast. I now suspect they were collectively trying to give me a foot up with opportunity -- arranging and paying for child care, buying membership dues, purchasing educational materials, driving me to meetings and lessons, and giving tutorial support to make sure I was following up with the studies, leaving no room for failure because of excuses. I'm glad I was naive at the time, but looking back now with this realization, I am pleased to think about the kindness they extended to me, and glad I accepted and embraced it. I really, thoroughly enjoyed it all, and still employ what I learned to this day.
I secretly look forward to the time when I can bang a gavel with authority and confidence during a meeting and call out, "The Chair does not recognized you, SIT DOWN!"