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Theme for 2019: Help Often

Ross Llewallyn

2018 was the first full year that I operated as president of Sunday Assembly Atlanta, and I chose to create some overarching goals and a theme to focus our actions. In this post, I’ll reflect on past years, compare to the specific tasks I set out to accomplish, and plan for 2019.

Five Years

At the end of December’s assembly, I showed a collection of photos to the gathered crowd that captured the past 5 years of SAA (since December is our birthday). The variety of fascinating, moving, and joyful moments created under the banner of this group was impressive to behold.

This Year

2018 had even more of these fantastic events. We had assembly speakers on homelessness, criminal justice, robotics, emotion in music, and the intersection of art and science. We celebrated life with a wide variety of music from a band that will soon be three years old. We brought community members from far away to us through sharing their words and life events at our gatherings. Our core small groups, like meditation, remain active and strong, and our Help Often activities have resumed with a renewed connection to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

SAA also stretched our boundaries by being an active part of the Rally For Science Atlanta. I supported our fellow assemblers in Nashville with the Nashville Nones Convention again this year and expect more folks from our community to attend this year. I documented my trip to Edinburgh to be with friends from the international SA community to get inspired by what is so special about what we’re doing and to be a part of the plans for the future of SA. At the end of 2017 and this year, SAA was the main organization creating a potluck event on December 25th for those who wanted a place to go during the holidays.

It’s also impossible to capture the many, many small triumphs and moments that happen because of our community. People make friends at our events. They share important life milestones. They connect, learn, take action, and grow. I truly believe that a crucial role SAA has is in being a facilitator for positive change, growth, and connection in ways that don’t make headlines, often in ways I may never see.

But in 2018 Sunday Assembly Atlanta absolutely had challenges. I mentioned in last year’s post that 2017 ended with fewer organizers than it began. That trend continued in some sense this year. We lost two organizers who moved away for their careers and education, which we celebrate in a bittersweet sense. Two other organizers are currently on a months-long trip across South America. We’re grateful to seeing them again soon.

This has meant more cancellations of planning-intensive events like Wonder Club discussions, fewer new ventures and plans, and assemblies being organized by as few as one or two people repeatedly, which rapidly depletes our organization’s bandwidth.

I am so grateful for the astounding amount of time and effort so many people devote to SAA to create meaningful events and spaces, even as we must scope our activities to our amount of volunteers. I’m heartened by the fact that SAA’s connections with other local groups has found new members, volunteers, and support.

2018 Report

I don’t believe 2018’s theme of Visibility carried through the year. That’s not surprising given the challenges of losing major figures of support through the year and the need to focus on our core activities, but regardless I also didn’t return to these ideas and goals frequently enough. Below are the goals I set forth, with commentary explaining how they turned out.

  • Make secular humanist communities and people more prominent:
    • ✘ Grow in number through new advertising and word-of-mouth
      • This goal suffered greatly as fewer organizers were available to handle basic assembly and event planning. Concentrated efforts to have flyers and campaigns to encourage folks to invite friends never materialized. Our continued existence and activity keeps bringing in new people, thankfully.
    • ✔ Connect more often with other local groups by communicating high-profile or joint events
      • This didn’t happen as often as I would have liked with other secular groups in Atlanta, but we now have Science For Georgia events cross-posted in our Meetup, supported SA Nashville with NaNoCon, and held our second and very successful holiday potluck with many local groups.
    • ✔ Hold a voter drive event
      • I learned the basics of running a voter drive and SAA was the organization ready to register voters at the Rally For Science Atlanta this year. I hope to repeat this and build more institutional knowledge next year.
  • Project our safe, compassionate, welcoming space:
    • 〰️ Create a code of conduct and post our values statement online
      • I updated our About page to hold our values statement and a link to SA Nashville’s code of conduct, which has served as our guide until we make our own. I don’t consider this task complete given that.
    • ✘ Be consistent in our childcare offerings
      • We’ve been consistent in not having it at all, unfortunately. I put the need for a childcare volunteer at the top of the list for potential volunteer roles. We need someone to own this aspect of our assemblies.
    • 〰️ Require accessibility notes in all event descriptions
      • While no formal “how to set up an event with SAA” guidelines are written, major events like assemblies and those at Rush are accessible and listed as such. Ones in homes may still not be so frequently specified. This still needs reinforcement.
  • Celebrate those within the community:
    • ✔ Highlight volunteers’ work more regularly
      • There is now a dedicated space in our assembly for thanking those who help make it happen. I believe we show our gratitude often and in full.
    • ✔ Show the diverse people in our community within our event descriptions and social media
      • In the photos above I believe I did this naturally, and in sharing successful events throughout the year I believe we did. This task is only possible because of the wide variety of people participating in our community, which I’m grateful to have.
    • ✔ Reflect our diversity in who is on stage at assemblies and their subject matter
      • As a part of the band, I put significant effort into making sure the music we perform isn’t just what I like and know. We succeeded in reaching a wide array of preferences there. I’m proud of the variety of folks who got up on stage this year to share their stories.
  • Better contextualize organizational and financial needs:
    • ✔ Create obvious and clear pathways to start new small groups or volunteer
      • Our website’s Volunteer page is the single location to learn where we need help. Getting that help still requires direct requests and active cultivation, though.
    • ✔ Better explain the purpose of donating during collection
      • We’ve evolved our collection pitch during our assemblies to not just list the dollar amounts required to do what we do but to also explain the benefit of doing those things. We’ve also outlined the variety of options there.
    • 〰️ Prompt opportunities for giving at small group events
      • Throughout this year, our needs dramatically shifted towards needing more of people’s time and energy rather than dollars. We did not continue to pursue this effort, and I’m comfortable with that for now.

2019’s Theme and Goals

Our overarching goals for next year fit into a theme that will be familiar with anyone involved with Sunday Assembly: Help Often.

This year I am streamlining this effort to focus our energy towards where it’s most needed by having a more concise set of goals and by labeling it with a part of our motto (Life Better, Help Often, and Wonder More). Many of these goals will follow naturally from the reflections so far and efforts already underway.

  • Train a new person each assembly this year to contribute to the event
  • Foster at least one new small group series and support existing ones
  • Continue partnerships with allied organizations
  • Engage our digital community through more regular posts and communications
  • Confirm our code of conduct and reinforce accessibility notices
  • Maintain our commitment to diversity and inclusion in our assembly speaker and event subject choices
  • Actively contribute to efforts to reshape a parent organization for American assemblies

These goals are oriented towards directly training volunteers, of course, but also activating our membership and creating those welcoming spaces for growth and connection so we may find those potential contributors. It also follows through on my promise from last year to properly support people through standards of conduct and accessibility information. Finally, the goals keep us engaged in local and national organizing efforts.

I hope that “Help Often” is a bit of encouragement to do just a little more than we might be used to. Our current organizing team can’t do this alone. We need you.

There’s so much to learn and gain from contributing: seeing people enjoy your potluck dish, hearing an amazing speaker you contacted move people, or creating a space for insightful and revealing discussion… All can be so rewarding. I am bolstered by our potential when we work together.

Check out what we need help with, and let’s talk about what can work for you.

Comments 2

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Ross. Thank you for all you’ve done for this community.
    My offer to help with your digital marketing is still on the table.

  2. Kara, can you send us an email so we can talk about this? I want to know more about what kind of stuff you’d like to do! Contact page will work.

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