The Experience of Starting a Chapter: Interview with Opal Cohen

November 20, 2020
Marnie Bloom

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Class of 2022

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I sat down with my friend Opal Cohen, who is a BBG in Am Echad BBYO #5062 in Northern Region East: Northern Virginia Council. She had the opportunity to be a founding member of her chapter so I decided to ask her a few questions about her experience.

How did you decide on the name, and what was the process like?

“When I was in 8th grade, shortly after I became a member, we had our first chapter meeting, specifically called an identity meeting. All chapter members as well as the Council N’siah and the Council Mazkirah attended this meeting. The Mazkirah acted as the Chapter Mazkirah and the same with the N’siah. At the meeting, the name, colors, and mascot were voted on. Am Echad means one nation, and since we are the first BBYO Chapter in NOVA we wanted it to represent that. It represents the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.”

What inspired you to (help) start a chapter?

“At the beginning, a bunch of people joined the unofficial BBYO group before I got there. I joined it but I didn't really know anybody. We started our own chapter and started off the group at our synagogue. By having our teen group become a chapter, we were able to make connections with Jews from all over the country and the world.”

You were only in Grade 8 when Am Echad BBYO was created. Being young and new to BBYO, why did you decide to follow through with creating a chapter?

“At first I only attended the programs because my friends were going, but after New Member Weekend I wanted to run for board and get to meet more people. After New Member Weekend, I was one of the only people in my chapter that had friends outside of our group. I wanted to help grow the chapter and make us stronger. I wanted to help more people get an experience like me. I now have international friends and a strong bond with my entire region.”

What were some challenges/successes when you were starting the chapter?

“One of our main challenges was branching out from our chapter. Even to this day, a majority of our members know each other at least a little bit before they join. Our first Morims had trouble finding new members or recruiting because they didn't know where to look. The second struggle of knowing everyone is that it feels like a comfort zone or a safe space. Some find it hard to go to council or regional events because they mainly stay with the members of their chapter and don't talk to a lot of people. Since we weren’t known and a lot of people didn’t know us, we had a hard time connecting with other chapters to organize events. More recently we have expanded our intake of members and now nearly have 30 members. This has allowed us to have our first full board. We had a joint fundraiser that raised over $600. We also got our first chapter member on the Council Board and Council Leadership Network. This year at the Regional Convention, we had our first attendance from our chapter, and we got our first chapter jerseys. One of my personal successes as N’siah was getting the gavel for our chapter and making a scrapbook.”

What would you suggest to anyone starting or thinking of starting a chapter?

“Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons because it is a lot of work, but if this is something you really want, it will be worth it. I was on the second and third boards, and since then we have grown so much; I am proud of my chapter. Don’t give up even if the chapter isn’t going how you want. If you have an advisor make sure to communicate with them a lot, and if you do not have an advisor make sure to keep in contact with the council/regional board. I would also highly suggest using the resources from azabbg.bbyo.org.”
“Just do it. It will take A LOT of time and dedication, but it is very and I mean VERY rewarding. It was the best decision of my life, and it honestly changed my life.” —Lauren, first president of Am Echad BBYO.

Marnie Bloom is a BBG from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and enjoys cheerleading, music and volunteering.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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