BRAMA, Sep 14, 2004, 10:00 am ET
Challenges faced by today's Ukrainian professionals' organizations addressed at DC conference
By Christine Demkowych
© The Washington Group
The Washington Group Leadership Conference
From the left: Nancy Medwid (UABA), Andrij Wowk (UESA), Oksana Xenos (UNWLA),
George Masiuk (TWG), Dr. George Hrycelak (UMANA)
The future of Ukrainian-American professional organizations depends on attracting younger members, broadening membership criteria; forming alliances with other organizations and ensuring that events and publications are more accessible to non-Ukrainian speaking members.
That was the message delivered by directors of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA - website), the Ukrainian National Women's League of America (UNWLA - website), the Ukrainian Engineers' Society of America (UESA), and the Ukrainian-American Bar Association. Of the four aforementioned groups, UMANA, in existence since 1950, has experienced the largest increase in membership over the past few years. Dr. George Hrycelak, executive director of UMANA, says the organization averaged 370 members in the 1990s. But in 2002, membership jumped to 412. Interest in the organization continued growing in 2003, with membership increasing to a record number of 453. In 2004, membership levels are expected to eclipse last year's figures.
Hrycelak says he believes a 2001 board decision to pay the executive director an annual salary of $30,000 is responsible for the increase in membership. In his capacity as executive director, Hrycelak handles membership, writes press releases, contributes to the newsletter, and responds to all phone, email and fax inquiries.
"Volunteers can only put in so much time." Hrycelak says. "I am always available to respond to member problems or questions. So far membership is growing."
Hrycelak explained that one of the biggest problems UMANA faced in past years is that it was perceived as a regional organization. "When our main office was in New York for the first 25 years, everyone thought we were an East Coast outfit. When our headquarters moved to Chicago, the same attitude was adopted for the mid-West," he said.
In an effort to address the misconception, Hrycelak said board members now represent all parts of the country. Board meetings are held four times a year and each board member travels to attend the meetings. More recently, Hrycelak said board meetings are teleconferenced.
Other measures recently adopted by UMANA include the expansion of membership criteria to include PhDs, nurses and chiropractors, among others. In addition, all financial records related to UMANA's activities and expenditures are open to members for review.
"Our biggest challenge right now is figuring out a way to engage young members. If we don't, they'll go elsewhere," Hrycelak said.
The Ukrainian National Women's League of America (UNWLA) is a 75-year-old organization with over 3,000 members.
The UNWLA spearheads a variety of fundraisers, runs day care centers and actively participates in a variety of community activities. The UNWLA unites women who are of Ukrainian descent, or belong to the Ukrainian community, for common action in preserving their cultural heritage and developing an enhanced sense of identity.
In an effort to address issues related to women's health and wellbeing, the UNWLA is taking active steps to forge alliances with other organizations and governmental institutions in the United States and Ukraine. The UNWLA has also become a member of several women's clubs in the United States, including the General Federation of Women's Clubs and the National Council of Women in the United States.
Xenos said the UNWLA is experiencing increased interest among members who are requesting the establishment of new English-only branches. The UNWLA is receiving requests to hold its conferences and seminars exclusively in English. Xenos said that when UNWLAs Branch 95 decided to follow-up on the English-only conference suggestion and held such a meeting last year at Soyuzivka, it had an encouraging turnout.
The Ukrainian Engineers Society of America (EUSA), founded in 1948, has expanded its membership guidelines to include scientists, economists, business people and technical professionals.
Andrij Wowk, president of EUSA, said a review of the organization's mission in 2001 revealed several challenges that needed attention: the EUSA's membership base was primarily comprised of retired professionals; the organization provided membership to many non-paying members due to a faulty dues collection process; the organization was perceived as an old boy's club whose only sponsored event was an annual debutante ball; and the EUSA had limited visibility in the Ukrainian-American community.
Wowk said that in 2003 the EUSA agreed to implement a centralized dues collection process and a system of fiscal transparency within all the chapters. The EUSA will expand its membership base to students and associate members who may not be degreed professionals but work in the technical field. A system of deactivating non-paying members was also put into place.
The EUSA has increased its visibility in the community by publishing a column in the Ukrainian Weekly on science and technology news. Members of the EUSA have also started giving lectures in the New York area.
"As a result of all our efforts, membership among younger people has increased," Wowk said, noting that the EUSA plans to take better advantage of funding possibilities that are available from U.S. organizations.
The Ukrainian-American Bar Association (UABA) was founded 26 years ago. According to UABA Vice-President, Nancy Medwid, its initial aim was to offer pro-bono legal services, provide a scholarship fund to help Ukrainians coming to the United States to attend law school, and help those in need navigate through immigration laws.
Today, the UABA hopes to promote a better understanding of the law profession; facilitate exchanges of students, lawyers and scholars; create local chapters throughout the United States, Canada and Ukraine; hold bi-monthly lunches; create a newsletter; expand access to its membership directory to non-members; offer advertising on its website; provide a mentor program with local law schools; and offer scholarships to Ukrainian students wanting to attend law school.
The directors of the Ukrainian-American professional organizations agreed that ideas and methods used to increase membership must be reviewed on a regular basis to reflect the concerns of the community and the changing environment. Paying attention to the needs of the "fourth wave" of Ukrainians is vital to the future of any Ukrainian-American organization. Offering discounts, scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to potential members whose incomes prevent them from joining, is an investment with strong, long-term gains.