Leave the Gun. Take the Cannoli

Laura Laing
Photo by amirali mirhashemian oUnsplash

ASJA is about to have a Five Families Meeting.

I’m referencing, of course, “The Office” episode, during which Kevin summons the five business owners renting space in Scranton Business Park, to settle a disagreement about parking. W.B. Jones Heating & Air is having some work done in their offices, and the construction crew is hogging the spots in the lot right outside of the building. This a problem because, as Kevin puts it, “Some people have to park really far away and walk all the way to the office. And some people sweat too much for comfort.” (He’s talking about himself.)

“The bosses rarely meet,” Kevin explains. “There’s Michael Scott, Regional Manager, Dunder Mifflin. Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration. Paul Faust of Disaster Kits Limited. They call him ‘Cool Guy Paul.’ W.B. Jones of W.B. Jones Heating and Air. Grade A Bad Ass. And Bill Cress of Cress Tool and Dye. Bill Cress is super old and really mean.”

Incredibly, all Kevin has to do is ask and the parking spaces are theirs again, but this feels like a huge victory.

If you’re a fan of The Godfather, you recognize the joke. In a much more serious scene, Vito Corleone calls a meeting of the five crime families. His Sonny was gunned down in a war between the families, and Corleone wants the violence to stop. Quite curiously, he concedes to the demands of the other families. Peace is achieved, but in return Corleone loses his power in a bid to protect his family.

I’ve had these two plot points in mind as I prepare for a meeting with all of the committee chairs of our, um, organization. In the last week of January, we’ll have our first-in-a-long-while Committee Chairs Meeting. No one is feuding. No one is stealing parking spaces or even double-booking Zoom times. But I like the idea of this being a meeting of ASJA’s Thirteen Families—ahem, Committees:

Advocacy Communications: Debbie “Petitions” Abrams Kaplan

Awards: Janine “Best Of” Latus

Client Networking: Wendy “The Connector” Helfenbaum

Conference: Kristine “The Scheduler” Hansen

First Amendment: JoBeth “Rights” McDaniel

Grants: Katie “The Big Ask” Navarra

Marketing/Communications: Tami “The Messenger” Kamen Meyer

Member Networking: Tania “Insider” Casselle

Membership: Carolyn “The Connector” Crist

Membership Approval: Jennifer “Green Light” Goforth Gregory

Nominating: Jenny “Gotcha” Fink

Publications: Jennifer “Lede” Nelson

Virtual Education Programming: Natasha “The Principal” Serafimovska

Website Redesign: Darcy “The Coder” Lewis

(New committee chairs will get their mob names as their teams are assembled.)

Some of these chairs will bring members who head up important subcommittees, like our Virtual Client Connections chairs: Erin “The Editor” O’Donnell and Jeanette “The Agent” Hurt. WEAF will be represented by Emily “Veep” Paulsen. Our Executive Director, Holly “The Don” Koenig and I will run the meeting.

So, if there’s no mob war or parking issue, what’s the point? In fact, there are two reasons for this meeting. First ASJA is growing, and with that growth, we need our committees and programs to work together a little more than they may have in the past. This is not to say that committee chairs never think of the other programs in ASJA, but as we offer more and more programming—and as our membership rolls grow—we need to have a slightly more formal process for encouraging this cooperation.

The second reason is our new website, which we hope to launch next fall. As our website team began planning, we were forced to consider how our volunteers wanted to connect with one another. A better-planned virtual home will help us break down some of the naturally occurring walls between programs, simply by encouraging all of our leaders to consider the larger picture. That’s exciting.

But the board and website development team can’t require changes without input from the committee chairs and other leaders. During this meeting, committee chairs will talk about their programs. We’ll also hear from teams that naturally reinforce a spider-web approach to culture and management: social media, publications, and website development. These teams work across our committees.

Pulling together this meeting (and spending a delightful 15 minutes coming up with mob names for each chair), I’m reminded of the incredibly talented and generous volunteers who run ASJA’s programs. I’m also grateful for the leaders who came before, who developed the programs and oversaw their growth, and who got ASJA to where it is today: ready to meet post-pandemic challenges with a clear vision of who we are and what we want to accomplish.

“Did I do this for me?” Andy asks as the construction trucks are pulling out Scranton Business Park’s parking lot. “No, I did this for the little guy. For Joe Sixpack. The guy who wakes up every morning in his four hundred dollar a month apartment, wonders how’s he gonna pay his mortgage that month. Wonders how he’s gonna fill his car up with oil. Wonders how I’m gonna pay my kid’s orphanage bills. That guy shouldn’t have to wonder where he’s gonna park.”

As always, our volunteers are doing this work for ASJA members. I love that.