On The Board By Default

As coordinator of the M2 program at Matsqui Institution, I was more able to see what was happening at the Board and Executive Director level. The Board members were all individuals with demanding careers. Some had little or no time to sponsor an images (1)inmate. Like the Executive Director, they had been appointed by Richard Simmons, the American originator of the M2/W2 concept. A high energy visionary, Simmons had begun the program in Seattle, Washington. Charismatic and in a hurry to get things done, he had contacted several individuals in B.C. and with their help had managed to establish the program here.

We, the sponsors, respected the individuals on the Board, but some of us felt our views, ideas and front-line experience needed to be represented at the organization’s policy setting level. At times we weren’t entirely comfortable with decisions coming out of the fledgling office. M2/W2 was experiencing the growing pains common to a startup in any realm.

Wanting to maintain an amicable relationship with Board members and yet have an impact, we suggested two Board members be nominated and elected by sponsors. After considerable dialogue and some prodding on our part, they agreed this would be a positive move.

I had been in frequent conversation on this matter with fellow sponsor and friend, Hugh Wiebe. He was young, vigorous, and a force in his family’s agriculture related business. I felt he had the experience to represent sponsor views. He agreed to let me nominate him. It was with the understanding, however, that I would take his place on the Board for about three months so he could deal with a number of current business issues. I very much wanted him on the Board and I agreed to occupy his chair temporarily. The Board accepted this arrangement and at the next meeting of the organization, Hugh was one of 2 sponsors elected.

In the ensuing months I began to realize that Hugh’s responsibilities in the family company were increasing and I was concerned his considerable management experience might not become available to M2/W2. He wanted to take on the role and assured me the time would come. Unfortunately, business pressures never allowed him time to take his seat on the Board. I served his entire one year term and then let my name stand and was elected for another term. My leadership experience was limited but sponsors apparently felt I was committed to representing their views and desires.

I was willing to serve on the Board because it enabled me to influence our work in prisons. We hired Mel Cox, a balding, middle aged ex-con. Mel had embraced the Christian faith and came to us through the recommendation of his pastor. Having done time himself, he had a pretty comprehensive understanding of prison systems and of prisoners. His sense of humour and quick wit appealed to sponsors and also inmates. He provided us with a better understanding of inmate thinking and how to avoid being conned. Most of us had little experience with individuals whose lifestyle and circumstances made constant scheming a virtual necessity. Mel’s insights enabled us to become at least a little less naïve.

Sitting on the Board provided me with a basic understanding of how organizational decisions are often made, and what it takes to get things accomplished. The experience was of immense benefit in coming years when I became an M2/W2 staff member and also subsequently in other organizations. Whenever possible, I now advise young people to volunteer in an organization that provides solid training and practical leadership experience. My time as coordinator of the program at Matsqui Institution in a volunteer capacity, and also serving on the Board has convinced me that a volunteer investment is likely to pay generous dividends in the future. In my case it laid the foundation for work and life experiences that brought me a substantive sense of purpose, satisfaction and fulfillment.

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