By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published July 23, 2015
SMYRNA—The Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women hosted its annual leadership program for women of the archdiocese at the Chancery June 20.
Presenters for the daylong event were Ellen Bachman and Suzanne Erpenbach from the National Council of Catholic Women Leadership Training Development team.
The LTD program is “a program by council women for council women,” Bachman said.
“This is by our women for you, our council sisters.” The committee worked on the program for two years and developed 50 topics.
The event in Atlanta was funded in part from a grant supplied by the Catholic Foundation of North Georgia, said Deanna Holder, president of AACCW. The grant provided the program free to the 63 women, representing 22 different parishes, who attended the training this year.
Trainers brought years of experience in leadership
Bachman, a native of New Jersey, currently living in Florida, has been involved in council for over 37 years and has leadership experience at every level: president of the affiliation, deanery and diocesan councils. She has been past president/province director for the province of Miami, Florida, and served as NCCW president from 2005-2007. While president, she created the committee to develop a leadership program. Presently she serves at the national level as a trainer for the Leadership Training Development team. Bachman is active in the church in financial areas as well as in parish ministries. She was recently elected to the Peace River Electric Co-op and serves as director for their board.
Erpenbach, who is from Knoxville, Tennessee, was nurtured in a family of women actively involved in the Council of Catholic Women. She has served for 40 years in various council positions at parish, deanery, diocesan and national levels. She is one of the original NCCW LTD team members and program creators. She received a bachelor of science degree in nursing from St. Louis University. She has served as development director for a Catholic school, director of stewardship and development for the Diocese of Knoxville, and has been in several nursing positions. She continues to serve the Council of Catholic Women at the diocesan and parish levels.
From organization cycles to membership recruitment
Bachman encouraged the women to listen. “God will speak to you today,” she said. “God will speak to each of us in a different way. He has a message for us. God brought you here by design. God brought you here today for a reason. Be open. Be listening.”
Topics presented by Bachman included: cycle of an organization, leadership and development, brainstorming, problem-solving and reflection. Her co-presenter, Erpenbach, talked about membership recruitment and retention, mentoring, creativity, and gave a summary wrap-up.
On the life cycle of an organization, Bachman said that all organizations have a beginning, middle and end. She said, “The average age of an organization is 35 years. The National Council of Catholic Women has been around for 95 years.” The reason why NCCW has been around this long, she said, is because they have continued to grow and change. “We had to re-invent ourselves,” she said.
She defined the maturity stage for an organization as the best stage, when it’s operating effectively, continually seeking new members. Everybody is participating, and they have long-term goals.
The elitist and stall stages exist when an organization starts to decline, she explained. The organization is comfortable where it is, with no growth. Everyone is more concerned with their own activities, for example, when a person has always been in charge of an activity and continues even though few people attend it.
“The good news is that you can start anew,” Bachman said, explaining that the group can go back to the infancy stage and begin again.
She said that leaders need to be listeners, to hear what the women in their councils are saying. She also stated that leaders need to be Christlike, to be Christian leaders and lead with love in their councils, adding, “Let the other people see the Christ in us and in our organization.”
Erpenbach said that membership recruitment is the main concern of all councils of Catholic women around the country.
“Every member’s job is to recruit,” she said. “We probably need more visibility.” Ideas that she has received from other women’s councils were to wear name tags, create business cards, talk to people at fundraisers for the council, and have scarves or tote bags with the council’s name on it.
Both Erpenbach and Bachman talked about the “elevator statement.” This is a 30-second statement saying who you are and what your organization is about. This statement should be short and informative in the length of time one spends talking to another person in an elevator. They stressed that all councils should have an “elevator statement.”
Erpenbach gave other ideas to draw women to council such as having babysitting available, having topics of interest like health issues or parenting classes. “Have something that would be appealing,” she said.
“There are so many opportunities to meet young women who may want to join your council,” she said. “The young people are so adept at using computers, different programs, that they may teach a class.”
Erpenbach said that when members invite someone to their meeting who cannot come, tell them about what is happening and invite them to come another time.
“It’s our attitude, it’s our enthusiasm, it’s our love for council that becomes contagious,” she said, “and it encourages the (women) to attend a meeting or an event or to find our more.”
“We are our best advertising, you and me,” she said. “It’s our passion, our love, our enthusiasm, that others see.”
“We are an organization founded on faith,” Erpenbach said. “Loving women need to be attending the meetings, helping with projects, serving others. We want to feed our members by praying for each other.”
She encouraged attendees to welcome participation in whatever way they can and to support their members. She also stated that leaders need to thank everyone, acknowledge contributions, respond to needs, encourage ideas, and develop a prayer life.
“We are the hands and feet of Christ,” Erpenbach said.
‘Make a difference in your council’
The day of training included activities for the women who attended. An ice breaker showed
council involvement such as feeding the homeless, being involved with St. Vincent de Paul or a parish outreach program, choir, crafting, council officers, peace and justice ministries, RCIA, stewardship, prison ministry, fundraisers, and more.
Participants also went through a brainstorming activity on how to communicate and advertise their council.
In wrapping up the day’s training, Erpenbach said, “We hope you will combine the skills from today to make a difference in your council. Take what you have learned and put it into practice.” She said that these skills are transferable to other areas of life.
“We plant seeds to grow. We are walking in faith,” Erpenbach said. “Our work in council, our programs, our faith expressions, our serving efforts will have effects beyond our recognition and capabilities.”
“I want to thank all the people who helped put this together,” Judy Williams, AACCW Leadership Chair, said. “It was a group effort with our registrar, Fern Bergeron, and Julie Pardo and Mary Lang who put together our food services. We couldn’t do it without it being a team.”
She also thanked the LTD team for their knowledge and presentation and encouraged the women who attended to do something with what they had learned. “I repeat what Ellen and Suzanne said—to take the information we have learned back to our parishes.”
Everyone who attended received a NCCW LTD certificate.
“I think it was wonderful. I really enjoyed it—very informative,” Tammy Hotchkiss, St. Mary Mother of God Church, Jackson, and a first-timer to the leadership program, said. “I brought another person from my parish. We had lots of fun. It was very well planned and went smoothly. I got a lot of ideas. The activities with everybody participating was a good exchange with women from other parishes.”
“I personally felt it was a valuable experience for our archdiocesan council to share with our parish councils so that we can be the voice for Catholic women,” Williams said. “Our faith journey is meant to be shared, and as Jesus told the disciples to go out and spread his word, so should AACCW be spreading his word and knowledge of our organization.”
For information about the AACCW, please visit www.archatl.com/catholic-life/council-of-catholic-women.