On the importance of membership
It's that time of year again: the end of summer vacations and the beginning of the school year, which also signals the start of our community activities after a three-month hiatus. Thus, it is time for us once again to ruminate on the significance of our community life, to take a look at where we stand.
This year we take as our point of departure something close to home: that is, the recent mass mailing sent out by the Ukrainian National Association which drew attention to the fact that many UNA members had expressed concern about the recent cutbacks of UNA fraternal benefits: the curtailment of the Soyuzivka season and the transformation of the Svoboda daily into a weekly. (As well, there have been staffing cutbacks at The Ukrainian Weekly, which has functioned since late January minus one editor.) These fraternal activities and others are threatened by further reductions; in fact, many observers expect the next round of cuts to fraternal activities to come in November, when the General Assembly elected at the UNA's 34th Convention this past May meets during a special session.
Writing in her July letter to "Members, Future Members and UNA Supporters," the UNA president noted: "The cutbacks in our fraternal benefits are all sad reminders that we must act quickly to save the fraternal activities of the Ukrainian National Association, our oldest and largest fraternal association. For more than four generations, UNA has served the Ukrainian community well and faithfully because we had a large base and community-wide support."
To make it plain: the reason the UNA was able to serve that community was because community members supported the UNA by joining the ranks of its members. The activity of the Ukrainian National Association affected all aspects of our community life, whether this involved sponsorship of a local sports team and scholarship grants to university students, donations to worthy causes like the erection of the Taras Shevchenko monument or financial support of efforts countering the defamation of Ukrainians by CBS's "60 Minutes."
Though we may not think the approach selected by the UNA execs to promote the UNA was the best ("We received many faxes and letters criticizing us for making tough choices and unpopular decisions. Instead of faxes send us your membership applications ... "), we do agree with its intent, which was to inform the public that it is through its insurance business that the UNA is able to provide fraternal activities. Whereas commercial companies use their profits to enrich stockholders, fraternal organizations like the UNA put their profits back into the community. Without the profits from its business, however, the UNA would simply not have any fraternal activities.
So, the choice is the community's. You can belong to the Ukrainian National Association and invest in the future of our community, or you can stand on the sidelines and watch as our community institutions continue to be eroded. (The new UNA Heritage Program provides a perfect, hassle-free way for community members to join the UNA and thus support fraternal benefits, like its publications and its resort.)
And remember, there is an additional benefit of UNA membership: once you have joined the UNA you will have a voice as to the future of this powerful diaspora institution. Members have a say about how the organization is run, about what fraternal benefits are offered, about what causes and organizations are supported, etc.
And that, dear readers, is the reason the UNA refers to those who enroll as its members, rather than its policyholders. Real members have a say - and a stake - in the organization to which they belong.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, August 30, 1998, No. 35, Vol. LXVI
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