This past weekend was one of those signature moments for us. So many significant things happened that I’m confident we’ll look back on it as one of those “inflection points” that really was a game changer. On the surface, it was pretty normal: lots of laughter and chatter (the pool may never be the same at the hotel!), great cooperation for all the activities (including making new friends and not just hanging out with your cohort buddies), some tough discussions about staying connected and moving forward (or getting back on track). But underneath all that was this palpable sense that we have turned a corner. They really are connecting more deeply and across cohorts. They really are getting the power they are developing to make changes in their neighborhood together. They really are excited about the Fall kickoff and ways to get more involved…actually signing up for stuff! There are enough of them now that they believe they can make a difference and that they have a voice: with each other, with MSH, and in their community.
Gail Eastman, former City Councilwoman and long-time Anaheim activist, brought a tremendous challenge to them. She talked about her own journey. She reminded them they have much to give and they are raising the next generation of leaders for our city. She held them in rapt attention – even though she had to be translated. She brought copies of her book, Anna’s Home by the River – a history of Anaheim that every third-grader in our city reads at school – and signed every one of them. One of our women shared that her daughter brought that book home from school and they read it together. She was surprised by all the fascinating things about Anaheim. Gail LOVED that! We ended our sessions at the hotel with a “self-esteem checkup.” I was struck by how deeply they connected to the conversation and the things they were willing to share with each other. We consistently try to remind them that they are not alone and I think they really are believing that, too.
So…was it worth it? It was expensive. I second guessed myself several times and wondered if it was a prudent thing…money has never been tighter. Could we have made it fun without going away? Did we really need to do that Harbor Cruise? Should we have stayed overnight? I’m not saying we couldn’t have made it meaningful while spending less, but I think what most impressed them was that we did spend the money and the time to make it special…just for them. They fell over themselves thanking us. They were truly enchanted by the Harbor Cruise – most had never done anything like that. It was a beautiful day and it is such a relaxing, rejuvenating experience. Maybe the most telling thing: they were ON TIME for everything. We didn’t have to go look for anyone or postpone anything trying to get them to gather. Most came early and they ate up every opportunity. They seemed to savor every moment.
We did make the decision to not do an overnight retreat next year. There were probably 10-15 ladies who didn’t come because of their children were too young or there was no one to stay with them overnight. But I am more committed than ever to try to create an annual retreat they don’t want to miss. We’ve got a year and whole new planning committee to work on it. My hope is that the alumni program would be our “finishing touch” for the long-term transformation process, and we took a big step forward toward that this weekend. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those of you who helped make it happen.