Meeting Uncertainty with Resiliency
GSO in the Pandemic | Summarized
Box 459 Summer Newsletter
[This] was a first: never in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous had the General Service Office — whose antecedents stretch all the way back to the late 1930s and Bill W.’s small office at Honor Dealers in Newark, N.J. — been forced to shutter its doors. G.S.O. is home to 95 employees of A.A.W.S., plus a dozen more working for AA Grapevine. These men and women, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, serve a worldwide membership of over two million alcoholics in myriad ways: answering letters, preparing bulletins, keeping prison inmate correspondence flowing, processing group contributions, providing new literature (and keeping older literature up to date), helping prepare for the General Service Conference and World Service Meetings, preserving A.A. history in print and digital archives, and maintaining the aa.org website, in three languages, with its 14 million yearly viewers. As the pandemic worsened, G.S.O faced an unprecedented logistical, technical and, yes, spiritual challenge. With employees scattered to their homes, how would it continue to fulfill its original function, as described by Bill W., of being a “point of reference on the globe where our few but important universal services can focus and then radiate to all who wish to be informed or helped”?
“As the news of the health crisis developed,” says Stephanie, “we started to forecast and think about how we could move forward. We actually thought we had more time, which we obviously didn’t…” “…So, actually, from March 13 to March 20, folks exited at their discretion. By March 19, it was very much a skeleton crew here.”
The closing of G.S.O. came in a year that was to have featured A.A.’s 2020 International Convention in Detroit, Michigan. Regrettably, the Convention had to be canceled. Michele Grinberg, Class A (nonalcoholic) chair of the General Service Board, says, “This was one of the very early decisions on the table,” in part because of vendor contracts. Greg T. adds that it was “unfortunate, but necessary.”
On March 12, the General Service Board announced a “Virtual General Service Conference,” a decision made in conjunction and consultation with G.S.O. According to Michele, “During the course of about a zillion Zoom calls, the three boards [the General Service Board, A.A.W.S. and AA Grapevine] worked together with the Fellowship with a goal of making sure the Conference delegates’ voices were heard and that there would be a meaningful Conference.”
There are other G.S.O. employees inventing solutions to problems they never thought they would have to solve. A.A.W.S. Mail/Shipping Manager Aubrey Pereira (nonalcoholic) is one. He currently hosts the G.S.O. mailroom right in his Bronx apartment. The mail consists of a combination of literature orders, contributions, notices from people who are updating addresses (some still do it on paper) and inmate mail, which goes to Brenda B. on the Corrections desk. There’s also mail for members of the senior management team and staff, and Aubrey either sends this to them via courier service or delivers it over to Zenaida Medina (nonalcoholic), Assistant Director of Finance, who scans it and then emails it to its intended recipient. Naturally, Aubrey’s days are busy, even though he estimates he is getting half the mail he received prior to the pandemic, probably due to the fact that A.A.s are not meeting in groups or perhaps even going to the post office. “At some point,” Aubrey says, “we’ll return to some semblance of normalcy. Until then this is how we are dealing with it, just to keep the avenues of communication open to the Fellowship and to not have the mail completely stopped.”
Brenda B., on the Corrections assignment, is one of the beneficiaries of Aubrey’s work. Letters from inmates — 400 a month — arrive at her apartment via the courier service. It’s busy, but she’s grateful for two things. One is the chance to help the inmates — “They are our brothers and sisters behind the walls, and any one of us could be in their place.”
At Grapevine, A.A.’s international journal, Publisher Albin Z. and Senior Editor Jon W. decided that the best thing they could do for the Fellowship was to “unlock” issues of Grapevine — normally available only to subscribers — on the new aagrapevine.org website. All A.A. members now have free access to Grapevine issues from January through May 2020. (La Viña issues are free January/February through May/June.)
As the pandemic worsened and A.A. meetings began to close down around the country and the world, Racy J., on the Public Information (P.I.) assignment, received a “first wave” of media queries focused on how A.A.s might stay sober in an age of social distancing. The information she provided came from the shared experience of the Fellowship. “Not being able to meet in person certainly has its challenges,” Racy says. “But what we communicate to the press is that from A.A.’s earliest beginnings, it has always been not so much a place, but a spiritual principle we live by. The experience of A.A.s grew from early members who had relatively few meetings to attend. Ways to stay sober could include a phone call, a letter in the mail, a Big Book. Anyone who is familiar with the Online Intergroup of A.A., the Loners-Internationalists Meeting (LIM) or people living in remote parts of the world knows that many alcoholics have long been meeting remotely.”
In general, Racy feels, we are entering new territory with these widespread digital meetings. “I’m seeing in real time groups having the discussion as to how we can utilize these platforms to carry the message while retaining anonymity. There may in fact be a lack in our current service material that needs to be explored.”
G.S.O. Archivist Michelle Mirza (nonalcoholic) is making sure that none of the history of the pandemic as it relates to A.A. is lost to the Fellowship. She says that, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, news articles were coming in “at warp speed.”
Michelle and her group collect internal correspondence — sharing from members, as well as staff responses — and external communications sent out by G.S.O. She has also been hearing from a few archivists in California who have started a newsletter and invited local archivists and members to share pandemic-related material.
Jeff W., staff member on the Group Services assignment, says that a good deal of his job is “to stay in touch with groups and help them be part of the service structure. “The people doing the truly heroic work here,” Jeff says, “are the intergroups, including Online Intergroup of A.A. They are all working tirelessly, coming up with new tech solutions.”
Greg is also aware of concerns about the financial sustainability of the General Service Office. “Obviously, we’ve never been in this position before, but the General Service Board Reserve Fund was created decades ago by our wise and prudent predecessors for just such a moment, to make sure the entire business survives and maintains continuity. In an emergency, the Reserve Fund is funded up to about nine months of operating expenses, and we are going to be drawing down from it over the next three to four months, before we start to get back on our feet again.” In terms of group contributions, G.S.O. accepts Seventh Tradition contributions via PayPal and will be testing Venmo and other platforms, many of which the groups are already using. As always with Alcoholics Anonymous, “money and spirituality mix in the basket,” even if that basket is a virtual one.
“COVID-19 will not stop us from doing A.A.,” he says. “All the way up and down the A.A. triangle, you’re seeing people adapting, finding a way. One thing you’re seeing in groups are these new service roles popping up, practically overnight — for example, the online coordinator who makes sure the meeting is set up properly, so that the leader can lead a meeting. Often these are people who maybe haven’t been involved in service, but they know their way around IT and they show up.”
Beau says, “I am not worried about A.A. being forever changed by this in terms of who we are as a people and what we value the most — carrying the message and helping each other.
BOX 459 Summer Newsletter
Article summarized. See full article by going to link below.
Celebrating the Miracle We All Are
Inspiration For Women Group
Bluegrass Intergroup Meeting Minutes: May 2020
The meeting was conducted via Zoom.
The meeting was called to order at 6:30 pm by Chair A.G. The Meeting opened with the serenity prayer. The Twelve Traditions were read by A.G. followed by IGR introductions.
Minutes: The minutes of the April meeting were reviewed and approved without dissent upon motion by JB with second by A. and no opposed. Finance Report: J.F. presented the Treasurer’s Report. Our Total Income was $3021.32 with both sales of $1581.82 and contributions of $1439.50. Expense was $4102.12 for a net loss of $1080.80. Kevin questioned continuing expense for employee wages and cleaning. The need for increased contributions was reiterated. (See discussion of computers below). The report was approved unanimously upon motion by S.S. and second by JB.
Old Business: Picnic: The chair, K., reported that she had contacted the mayor’s office for information. Groups of greater than 50 will not be allowed until July and there is no availability for the shelter. Upon motion by K. and second by S.S. the picnic was postponed until the summer of 2021.
New Business: Office Telephone: A.G. proposed changes to the office. In order for the office manager to be able to roll over the phone, she must go to the office. A mobile phone would obviate the need for that and, in addition, there would be savings, since we are currently paying $180 for a landline. Opening the office will necessitate adhering to the infection control protocol for businesses. There was discussion regarding the ability to place orders by phone or online with pick up by a single person limiting exposure. We need to purchase masks and hand sanitizer and have the room fully cleaned before opening. J.F. questioned the need to open in the near future. JB said that IGRs should encourage purchase from the office. A.G. said that we could set up a mechanism on the web to direct order from the intergroup for pickup. Donations and computers: J.H. had prepared a cost analysis for computers; they would be the same price to build as to buy. A.G. emphasized the need for purchase in the next 2-3 months. J.F. brought up consideration of a fundraiser. G.M. pointed out that we could have an event on the picnic date. The idea of a silent auction was raised. K. suggested an online conference with speakers and solicitation of donations at that time. D.A. requested the amount needed ($700 each) and made a motion to solicit sufficient donations to cover them via a link on the website. M.S. seconded it. Some were uncomfortable with the idea of a fundraiser per se and this seemed to be a good option. All of the IGRs need to go to their home groups as to why it is so important to contribute to the Intergroup. There was a motion and a second from L.R. and JB for each IGR to request $30 from their home groups for this cause. Bonnie suggested that we table the fundraising idea until later.
Grapevine: E. reported that each group needs to solicit an individual to be Grapevine representative. This person would announce new editions, products, and solicit articles. Outreach: JB reported that he is attending meetings, recruiting IGRs (with success) and educating groups about the Intergroup. Hospitals and Institutions: M.S. is still reaching out to the Ridge and Recovery Works as they are shut down due to the pandemic. Public Information: A. announced that he has to step down as committee chair. Scoop: J.H. noted that the Scoop is online at the Intergroup website. Website: D.A. noted that he and J.H. have been busy. He reports that a lot of ideas have been submitted but they need the folks to do the content for the website. Mailchimp is set up and asks IGRs to advise and encourage homegroup members to sign up. He is working on organizing 4 meeting lists. In converting to regular meetings, it will be chaotic and email information will be important. For ordering literature and chips, he can add an app which can be converted to a store later on. K. volunteered to head up a Zoom conference. Coordinator: M.W. reported that there were more than 200 calls with few sales.
District 14: DCM is sending outlines of what can be included for GSR reports and encouraging questions from home groups for the District, Area or GSO, to GSRs. Groups are doing Zoom meetings and most groups have noticed a drop in attendance, although some are getting more from outside of the normal geographical area. They are encouraged to reach out to regulars who have dropped off since going online. WORST group will be hosting a Service Workshop via Zoom May 23rd from Noon – 1:30 with a flyer, coming out shortly, posted on Area 26 and Bluegrass Intergroup Websites. Our delegate, with two other area panelists will be featured. Each panelist will have 30 minutes to talk on topics from the pamphlet, The AA Group, and the AA Service Structure. Corrections: Jail meetings remain on suspension. A.H. offered zoom meeting information and asked local jails about literature being dropped off. None of the jails are offering online meeting options. Scott County allows literature other than BB and 12&12. A.H. ordered grapevine books and sent them directly to Scott County Jail using pink can monies. Treatment: Workshop May 6 & 7 on how to carry the message through Zoom. Ridge has it available for people to connect through zoom. Trying to set up Bridging the Gap with the ridge. There was a workshop in the works before the shutdown. That has been on hold. Public Information: At the last Area meeting a question was posed for attendees: are there Big Books and 12 and 12’s in the public libraries? L.L. will look into this. Also talked about putting meeting schedules at hotels and motels, announcements in the paper around the holidays, and letters to high schools. T.F. was elected to the Literature Chair position. The next District meeting will be via Zoom in June.
District 28: B.S. – Monthly business mtg was on April 26th via conference call. The only open committee chair currently is Accessibilities. The body discussed how to contact those members who had not attended in 2 or more of the last mtgs we have had (guidelines state that a committee chair who misses 3 meetings in a row are automatically removed). T. is going to check on members we have not seen in a while Committee Report Highlights: Archives- had nothing new to report. Grapevine-reported he finally got 3 months’ worth of subscriptions that he ordered in January. Treatment-reported Schwartz Center is still shut down. Group Awareness- has been working on an announcement for groups to make at meetings about GSR’s and the home group being connected to AA as a whole. She proposed having Intergroup list the info for Dist. 28’s monthly business mtg. I got with Dave on that and that is in the works. Also checking with District 15 if they would like their info listed as well. CPC- asked others to think of any professional groups that he might contact to go talk to and make a presentation. DCM Report: reported he attended the Area Assembly where a mock conference was held. He also encouraged members to announce at meetings to remind AAs to continue monetary support of all entities – Intergroup, District, Area, GSO.
The meeting was closed at 8:35 pm with the Responsibility Statement.
Bluegrass Intergroup Steering Committee
Standing Committee Chair
HOSPITALS & INSTITUTIONS