My Rochester morning of clement sunny weather started too, too early with a contractor texting me from NYC about yesterday’s suspected gas leak near our stove and subsequent shut-off. There was no going back to sleep after that 6 AM “ping,” though it would have been the rare parental chance to sleep until seven. (Update: Nothing bad happened thank goodness, but, the stove is kaputt, we think.)
Dressed, packed, and checked out of the hotel by 8:00 AM, hotel-room coffee and tiny pillow chocolates as breakfast, I join our contingent in our aqua and pink shuttle bus and we zoom down the 390 to Geneseo through increasingly rolling farmland. Somehow we are a full 15 minutes late (how? how?) to the venue of our Board Meeting at the Geneseo Migrant Center, a grant partner that provides direct services to the migrant farm workers of the nearest six counties: legal advice, early childhood interventions, creative writing and the arts, town hall discussions, and dentistry.
The first two hours of our stay are devoted to our Board Meeting. We have four a year and, as most of the work of the Board occurs in specialized, task-delimited committees (many of which meet via teleconference), the meeting runs on a “consent agenda” with swift successions of motions and votes, straw polls, reminders and up-to-the minute additions to reports, but also time carved out for important discussions that best happen face-to-face. Today’s meeting helped us agree upon a direction for a planned giving program; that is, a way to accept donations made as part of a will or bequest. We also agreed to do a logo re-design and set up that committee. Most excitingly, the Board voted on the candidacy of a potential member from Dutchess County who is extremely resourceful, caring, and personable. Boards need to renew themselves continually–a peer-to-peer process that I can’t perform for the Board but for which I have to provide tools, advisement, and support–and, in practice, “nominating and governance” can be a real stumbling-block if good processes are not in place. Things are going smoothly here, if a bit slowly as there is a lot of demand for resourceful, qualified board members. Most people we ask are on several Boards already or are being courted by them.
At pretty much every board meeting, our organization decides to change or improve something about itself, which is a bit like taking apart a car engine while it is still running. When we talk about our identity, mission, brand, or communications strategy, we all have to dig in and pull out those pieces. Today had more than the usual sense of dis-assembly for me, but thankfully, all the key car-engine pieces were put back in working order by the end of two hours. We have a good sense of what pieces need work before the next Board Meeting in September. Near the end of the meeting we were throwing whole reports off the agenda in order to end on time–no Prezi on the new grant guidelines, no slides about logo directions, no discussion of the few “additional business” items. The Chair says, “Adjourned,” and we’re out. We don’t toy with the time of our members.
We twenty-six people emerge from the meeting into the wide, inviting hallways of the Geneseo Migrant Center, whose staff awaits us with a sped-up tour of its exhibition of 40 years of serving migrant farm workers, underwritten by the Council. Artworks made by the workers (paper flowers, mandalas, gourds, walking canes, musical instruments from unsuspected successions of cultures) join panels of original poems, paintings, and photographs by migrant workers. One set of photos is devoted to onions, another, potatoes, another, dairy. The Center, begun as a faculty research and demonstration project of SUNY Geneseo, puts a whole new reality into our own organization’s idea of field work. They have been around for 40 years, a tad longer than the Council, and for both, the dream of the seventies–in shared inquiry, the dignity of the humanities for all, and the authority of those being researched–are not only alive but fully worked-out in practice. Our staff is humbled by the mission, quality and reach of the Center.
Finally, we once more board our trusty shuttle–did I mention that it is aqua, oddly-shaped, with “STARS” written in fuchsia cursive on the side? We’re soon entering the grounds of Letchworth State Park, where we are joined by one of the rangers for an historic, scenic, and naturalistic tour. A short tour of course, as we are a bit off-schedule. The weather is splendid, ridiculously nice, as a scene opens up before us that could have been somewhere out West.
A great, stratified canyon has been carved, as glaciers once melted furiously into the Geneseo River, for miles of the park. There are falls and mists and gliding raptors of all sizes. Our one item of business at the Park is to meet up with the local State Senator, Catherine Young, for a hand-shake and photo-op above the falls. Senator Young supported the humanities in the state budget, and we were able to thank her for that as well as report on our activities in her district.
The flight home on JetBlue was on-time, dodging towering thunderheads rising over the farmland, and I got to see my two boys before they went to bed! Now that they are asleep I’m rather worried about breakfast, with no stove all weekend (during which I am the sole parent, as my husband’s trip is longer than mine) to cook the obligatory eggs. –Bagels? Bagels!