The CDSS Affiliate Ambassador Project
By JoLaine Pokorney, Gaye Fifer, and Wendy Graham
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... to begin a pilot program, that is. We’d been mulling over a plan for regional Ambassadors—people to be a local presence for CDSS in each region of North America—for a couple of years. And responses to the 2019 Affiliate Survey made it clear that CDSS needed a better way of connecting with and supporting Affiliate groups. So the Board and staff collaborated to design a pilot “Affiliate Ambassadors” project. Just as we were getting ready to launch, the pandemic hit, and communities across the continent were thrust into an existential crisis. Were we even relevant if no one could hold in-person dances? Was the whole music and dance world on hold? But, intrepid Ambassadors that we are, we decided to go forward with the pilot and make adjustments as needed.
We conducted the pilot in three regions: Wendy Graham was the Ambassador for the “Four Corners” region (Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah), JoLaine Jones-Pokorney covered the “FLAG” region (Florida, Alabama, and Georgia), and Gaye Fifer had Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
Common Framework, Customizable Approaches
One goal for the project was to give the Ambassadors flexibility. We knew from survey responses that different communities have different needs and that a one-size-fits all approach was not an option. But we also wanted to provide enough continuity across regions to look at a larger picture. So we started with each Ambassador conducting a round of phone calls to understand everyone’s immediate needs. Some Affiliates were biding their time until in-person dances could happen again, but others were interested in building regional connections during the downtime and discussing what they could do to keep their communities connected.
Another Affiliate organizer suggested that they would find it helpful to meet with other area leaders on a quarterly basis, both during the pandemic and after. This idea was shared among Ambassadors and quickly embraced by the other regions. We agreed that each Ambassador would hold at least one online gathering for the organizers in their region to help folks get to know each other and brainstorm how they might work together and share resources.
Each region also held a winter holiday gathering. The FLAG region held a holiday party with games, a carol sing-along led by Pete Turner, and English and contra dancing with Seth Tepfer and Reel Play. Drew Delaware shared his “Contra on Demand” videos as a resource for communities who want to hold a virtual dance, but perhaps don’t have resources to make it happen.
The Four Corners region’s winter holiday gathering was all business! They discussed their involvement with the New Year’s Eve “Sea to Sea” event and worked through some hurdles to ensure it would be successful and fun for all participants. They shared upcoming virtual events in their region. One member shared new-found enthusiasm for singing and jamming software, Jamulus, which was later presented formally on the January CDSS Web Chat. (Find the recording of that Chat at cdss.org/web-chats.) The group shared ideas they had seen working well in other communities, such as the London Barndance’s monthly call for video submissions of everyone dancing to the same music.
At the last PA/ WV/OH/MI region video conference, interest was expressed in holding a Cultural Equity Workshop specifically for organizers considering starting this work in their local community. One organizer volunteered to apply for a CDSS Grant for the workshop, and more than 20 people signed up to attend online. This effort was so much more efficient once we involved numerous communities. Individual communities might not have had the motivation or wherewithal to organize a workshop on their own, but working together made the load lighter on everyone. We hope workshop attendees will be able to work with boosted confidence on a more local level to include their community members in this work.
Evaluating the Work
Although it seemed like our pilot plans would be curtailed by the pandemic, we found that many organizers are craving connections right now, and we hope that this pilot helped meet that need. We learned a lot from the Affiliates in our regions and saw first-hand how helpful it is to have an intentional and focused connection between CDSS and local communities. The next big questions are: What were the successes of this pilot? What could we do differently? Should we move forward with implementing Ambassadors for all Affiliates across North America?
Affiliates who were part of the pilot will be getting a survey soon to assess their experience. If your local Affiliate wasn’t part of the pilot, we’d still like to hear your thoughts on the idea. Would regular get-togethers with other CDSS Affiliates in your area be a positive for your community? Would an Ambassador closer to your home community make a difference in how connected you feel to the organization? What other thoughts do you have on the Ambassador program? Let us know by sending an email to Gaye Fifer at email@example.com.