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Are You an Active Member or Do You Just Belong?

Dave Arnold

I was in sixth grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a gunman on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

I'm not sure if it was my impressionable age or that he ended up being a great president, but President Kennedy's inauguration speech struck a chord with me.

"And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." Those words still ring true in my mind.

When it comes to our National Education Association (NEA), the same sentiment of active participation and public service inspires me to ask of myself and other members: "What can we do to help?"

I think everyone can help in their own way, but help they must. On one member or small group of members can accomplish alone all that there is to do.  I have heard it said that in most organizations you will normally find 2 percent of the people doing 98 percent of the work.  This is how I felt one day when I had to be in two places at once, and couldn't find a member to help me out. 

Little Help, Please

When my wife, Nancy, began working as a high school cook, she joined the Illinois Education Association (IEA) and also became their region council representative as well as her local's treasurer.

I have been the region council representative of my education support professional (ESP) local since its inception in Brownstown, Illinois 15years ago. During my service as president, I was able to help shape policies and the direction of the group.

As region council representatives, my wife and I attend meetings once a month at our region's headquarters in Edwardsville, Illinois. We have made numerous friends there and always look forward to being there even though it is an hour's drive for us.

The region reimburses representatives for their mileage and annually gives a perfect attendance award of $125 to locals. This is an incentive for faithful attendance. My local uses $100 of that as a student scholarship while some other locals might use it to help fund trips to conferences and other meetings.

Nancy and I have never missed a meeting since the day we were voted into our offices, but sometimes we have wished that we had some help.

Several years ago, my aunt passed away suddenly. So, her funeral came with very little notice. And it happened to be on the same day as our region council meeting. Try as I might, I couldn't persuade one of my fellow members to attend the council meeting in my place. So, I left home at 4:30 a.m. and drove four hours to attend her funeral. I then made the four-hour trip back home, changed clothes, swallowed a cup of coffee, and drove another 60 miles to attend the council meeting that happened to last later than normal.

I fell asleep at the wheel a couple times on the way home but I managed to make it back by 11 p.m. I had to get up for work at 6 a.m. I survived, but oh how I wish that someone could have had the kindness within them to have helped me out.

Replacements Needed

A few weeks ago we rushed my elderly mother to the hospital. She had fallen and suffered several injuries. Once we were there, it dawned on Nancy and I that we also had to be at a region council meeting and banquet that evening.

It was a special one too. NEA President Reg Weaver was going to be the speaker. Of course, I wanted to be at the meeting and see Reg, but my mom had priority. Nancy and I started making our calls to see if someone could go in our place to the meeting.

Even with the extra bonus of Reggie being there, we still could not get a replacement. So, once my mother was stabilized, we rushed off to the meeting. That evening, as our beloved president, Reg Weaver, spoke he hits the nail on the head by reading a poem he had written. It's titled, "Are You an Active Member or do You Just Belong?"

Are you an active member
the kind that would be missed?
Or are you just contented
that your name is on the list?
Do you attend the meetings
and mingle with the flock?
Or do you stay at home
to criticize and knock?
Do you take an active part
to help the work along?
Or are you satisfied
to only just belong?
Do you work with your committee
and get right in and mix?
Or leave the work to just a few
and talk about the cliques?
Think it over, member
--you know right from wrong!
Are you an active member
or do you just belong?

I hope that you are a member who is among the active 2 percent. I hope you are one of those who ask what you can do for your Association, not what your Association can do for you.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.