Read About Our Board
“Small Steps with a Big Footprint” A Conversation with Rebecca Stahl, JD, Board Chair, and Michael Changaris, PsyD, Board Immediate Past Chair
felt it was fruitless to even speak up. Then, along came COVID. It forced us to ask the question we should have been asking all along: How can we do things differently and still hold on to what’s really important? Of course, we made a major transition with COVID’s presence—undertaking the enormous task of taking all the trainings virtual. The staff, faculty, assistants, and coordinators deserve a huge amount of credit for that. As a community, we came together in ways we never have in the past. Yes, we all have Zoom overload, but the silver lining is seeing each other’s faces and talking in person. And now we’re looking at how our world may look post-COVID, which may not be “normal.” Our foundation of having better conversations will help us meet the post-COVID world—however that finally takes shape. I’m also proud of the way our community embraced the goal of becoming better trained and better prepared to confront the issue of social and racial injustice, including in our own organization. We still have much work to do on that issue and we are fully committed to that. Michael: Part of what makes an organization strong is not necessarily that everything is “right,” but that it has a structure and processes that can pivot quickly to reflect the environment and the needs of the community. In January 2020, I used the word “stable” to describe the transition work our organization and commu- nity had done in the last 18 months. But then the cards got thrown everywhere with COVID. What we had that we didn’t have before was resilience and responsiveness, coherent teams and collaborative approaches, policies not just personalities. We trusted each other and we knew we could pivot. I feel like we were on a much firmer footing to face COVID than we would have been in the past.
Q. Talk about some of the major accomplishments of 2020.
REBECCA: In one week, we canceled all the upcoming trainings and suddenly found ourselves in a precarious position, especially financially. But that same week, Sonja Cole and her team set up a standing weekly call to figure out: What next? The message was essentially: If we stick together, we’ll figure this out. We had faculty, coordinators, assistants, staff, and several Board members on these calls, and eventually we transitioned into a fully functioning online training and educational operation. Several lead assistants attended and came back with notes on what worked and what didn’t. It took a lot of courage to step out and say we are going to move all of our training online—and we will
trained very differently than therapists and body workers and we see the world differently. I thought I could help with applying more structure and better decision-making to the existing Board. I suppose you could call that better gover-
Q. You came to the Board at different times and under different circumstances. What were your goals for both being on the Board and chairing it? Michael: I’ve been involved with the Institute quite a long time. I realized during my time on the Board that my job as Chair was to be a servant of the organization’s vision, values, and purpose and that there was a core group of people who have been doing this work for decades, but often were not supported to help take the Institute to the level it should be. It became clear to me that a collective vision was the only way to move forward. We came together over a new strategic plan, for which we brought in many stakeholders around the organization, and we built structures so that people can put their “voices” into documents, which allowed the documents to really reflect the organization. In the past, I believe the Board was a brain without a connection to the body and the heart of this organization. That is dramatically differ- ent now in my opinion. But the Board is still a work in progress. For example, I’m focused on how to infuse this role of past-Chair with some meaning, so that it’s not a blank sheet for those in the future. I will say that despite the fact some days as Chair I woke up wondering how we were going to stop this car from going over a cliff, it really has been one of the most profound gifts of my life to be of service to the Institute. REBECCA: I came on the Board in summer 2018 not really knowing what to expect, but I’m part of another organization made up of mental health professionals and lawyers, so I “speak” that language well. But we lawyers are also
It became clear to me that a collective vision was the only way to move forward.
- Michael Changaris
nance, but I really wasn’t familiar with the word governance as it applies to a non-profit Board. I learned a lot! We are now in a much better place with our governance, our documents, and our decisions, and I accepted the position as Chair for 2020-2021 as both a gift and an honor. I have tried to follow Mike’s lead on servant leadership and believe strongly in his vision. Q. Why does the theme of “transition” make sense for this report and for SETI going forward? REBECCA: Well, there’s our pre-COVID transitions and our life-in-the-time-of-COVID transitions, right? A big part of our overall tran- sition has been to pull together a group of people who felt disconnected into one new hub so that every person involved can achieve more. Could this organization have continued on without new leadership and new structures? Yes, it probably could have, but it wouldn’t have done it too well, it wouldn’t have created the space for more connection, and it wouldn’t have grown. We have put a high priority on listening, although we are not totally there yet. But we recognize that just the fact more people are speaking up—even if they feel like they are not 100% “heard”—is a good thing. In the past, I believe some people
The message was essentially: If we stick together, we’ll figure this out.
learn from it. I couldn’t name them all but there were dozens of people involved in pulling this together and they are all heroes in my book.
- Rebecca Stahl
Michael: Behind the scenes, there was much hard work, most of it unrecognized, to keep the Institute afloat. A financial team worked together to look at what loans, financial support, or government assistance we could get, how to stay in legal alignment on those, how to nav- igate the possible forgiveness of this money, and so on. The situation was fraught with confusion and complexity. Just ask any small business owner who was seeking financial relief. I’m not sure in the past we could have pulled that together—we might have been fracturing, even frozen, rather than working together.
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