Patty Lyn Tweten
The SCMA Alliance & Foundation
is not your mother’s ladies’ auxiliary. Over its 85 years, the Alliance has become a major nonprofit player in Sonoma County, generously funding numerous public health, education and welfare organizations. How the organization has thrived while weathering sweeping changes in medicine is a story best told by its members.
Living with Purpose
When you first meet Charlene Staples, the phrase “though she be but little, she is fierce” comes to mind. She is a woman of action and accomplishment who is adored by those who know her well. Charlene has been a member of the Alliance since 1979, and has served as its president twice. She actively participated in the group’s transition from a social-based women’s charitable auxiliary to the nonprofit organization it is today.
Charlene witnessed the galvanic changes during the women’s movement in the 1970s, when the Alliance struggled with membership. As she recalls, “Women didn’t want to be seen as belonging to a frivolous group.” Charlene had a different perspective. “As a feminist, I had no problem being part of a social organization,” she observes. “Being active in the Alliance allowed me to enrich my life with friendship and live with purpose.”
During the 1980s and 90s, Charlene watched a new kind of Alliance member emerge: one who had been out in the work force and brought those skills to the table. Newly empowered Alliance members developed more ambitious goals for the organization. The group leveraged its charitable giving by reaching outside its own membership and building partnerships with the YWCA, the public health department and other organizations. For example, the Alliance’s Give-a-Gift program for children in foster care had outgrown the funding capacity of Alliance members, so the group reached out to other organizations for donations and support.
The Give-a-Gift program has recently added laptop donations for foster children headed to college. Charlene notes, “I am most proud of the way the support of children in foster care has expanded to include the teenagers who [are college bound].” She helped initiate other programs on teen issues and a seminar on physician burnout that was sponsored by SCMA.
Charlene’s main reason for being in the Alliance has never changed: it is the friendships she has made and the support medical families give each other. “The Alliance is multigenerational and always has been,” she observes. “It’s so awesome [to remember] the women who came before and on whose shoulders we stand. I hate to think of my life without having known these women.”
A Balancing Act
When Sheela Hodes joined the Alliance 20 years ago, she says it was a “no brainer.” Her initial attractions were the social connections and the mutual support. “I have long-term friendships that developed and will be lifetime friendships; they started that first day,” she recalls. Over the years her level of involvement in the Alliance has been balanced around her children’s needs, a flourishing career in real estate, and the needs of her husband, Dr. Eric Hodes, who is currently the president of his medical group.
The annual Garden Tour was Sheela’s first Alliance volunteer experience. Spending a few hours meeting new people in a beautiful garden while helping the community was a compelling enough reason to leave her kids for the afternoon. She enjoyed the experience so much that she has returned to volunteer almost every year.
Sheela went on to participate in the Safe Schools and Scholarship committees. “I really enjoy giving away money,” she jokes. Her Scholarship Committee work involved reviewing applications and increased her awareness of how many deserving and hardworking students live in Sonoma County. “I especially enjoyed giving the money to them to help them with their medical careers,” she recalls. She points out that her Alliance work has another upside: “My kids see my actions and place importance on [helping the] community.”
A two-time Alliance board member, Sheela returned this year as the vice president of membership and has championed a successful new recruitment campaign. She laughingly describes her biggest challenge as “Encouraging people to take the leap for $75!” Happily, her profession allows her to meet physician families moving to the area, and she notes that they are excited to find other medical people in the community. She is firm, however, about not pushing new members into roles until they’re ready: “Being a part of [the Alliance] is not a commitment!” She’d rather mentor new members as they get to know the organization by inviting them to invest a few hours as their schedule permits. “Awareness is where we need to grow,” she says of recruitment. “Awareness of why it’s important to be a member—of who we are and what we do.”
New Faces Breathe New Life
Two of Sheela’s new recruits are Liz Bauer and Aaron Grove. Both are fairly new to Sonoma County. Liz and her husband, Dr. Colin Bauer, recently moved up from Marin. So far, Liz hasn’t been able to attend many Alliance functions. “I want to be as involved as I can,” she explains, “but I need to have more time for myself, first. I have a two-and-a half-year-old dictator at home.” Sheela encouraged Liz to run a playgroup for Alliance members with young children. After a quiet beginning, Liz plans to schedule more playgroup dates in the fall: “We want to do things once a month or once every couple of months, and also keep up with things in the Alliance. This is a great way to meet new people.”
Aaron Grove and his wife Dr. Judith Hong arrived in Sonoma County from San Francisco three years ago. Aaron telecommutes from home most days and drives into the city once a week. Since he doesn’t work locally, the social threads that naturally occur in the work environment don’t exist as much for him. He says that the Alliance “seems like a good way to get in touch” with other people in the community. He likes the organization’s grass-roots level of community involvement, and he’s interested to see where it will go, noting that the Alliance seems to have a lot more momentum than a year ago.
Many things about the Alliance have changed in 85 years, but two have stayed the same: the mission and the membership. The mission has always been to serve and support people and organizations in the medical field, and membership has always been for physicians and their spouses. As Charlene Staples observes, “Our friends outside the medical family really don’t understand the unique circumstances of our lives.” The Alliance is a community that understands those circumstances, and that is the key to its longevity.
Mrs. Tweten, a member of the SCMA Alliance, is a freelance writer and graphic designer based in Penngrove.
The Alliance has a home for every kind of member—from the annual dues-payer whose contribution helps fund programs, to people who love to jump into the fray. If you or your spouse or domestic partner are interested in joining the Alliance, visit www.scmaa.org and click on Membership.
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