Membership Monday: Three Generations at Calhoun WI

From time to time as part of Membership Monday, we will post an article to profile a Women’s Institute Branch. As you might expect, each branch will have many similar characteristics. But each will have its own particular history, successes and challenges. Today we kick off the series with a profile of the Calhoun WI from New Brunswick.

Roll call!

Kim Légère, the youngest member, has been part of the Calhoun WI since 1996. Her grandmother, Hazel Lewis hosted the first meeting of the branch when it formed in September 1952.

Eileen Toole, a founding member is still active with the group. She has held many positions at the branch and district level.

In between these two women sit three… count ‘em, one, two, three others to complete the small but mighty WI. These five active members meet the third Wednesday of each month excluding the summer months of July and August.

Kim contacted FWIC to discuss membership.  “I would love to see the Calhoun WI group grow in vast numbers,” says Kim. As a small child, she recalls her mother hosting the WI meeting where there were thirty or forty members in attendance. “Not that many years ago when women were homemakers they enjoyed the evening out, but with today’s hectic schedules women find it hard to commit to another scheduled outing.” Unfortunately, over the years, Calhoun’s membership has declined.

 “I would love to see the Calhoun WI group grow in vast numbers,”

Both Kim and Carolyn O’Hanley, the president of Calhoun WI described the regular events as well as the special projects undertaken by the members.

The Calhoun branch is responsible for the street lights that their stand-alone community has enjoyed for ten years.  This was accomplished through canvassing and petitioning the community residents. Provincial speakers were invited to meetings which were held in the only place available, the local community church.  Finally, the lights were installed.

Calhoun WI was part of The Adopt a Highway Program until last year when the Province of New Brunswick decreased funding to the Department of Environment.  The group has hopes that the newly elected government will grant funding for this project. The WI is watchful regarding the safety of roads in the area, too. They report to the government officials regarding the over-growth of bush and grass along Calhoun Road.  Last year the government contracted out a major maintenance project to attend to this issue, something that might not have occurred if it were not for the diligent urging by the Calhoun WI.

Also in the community, the WI supports the breakfast program at one of the schools close to Calhoun, and each year they provide scholarships to high-school graduates. The members visit and send cards to those who are sick or shut-in, and they remember the bereaved in the community. The group also supports the local church with donations of supplies such as bath tissue, soap, and cleaners.

Each summer the group takes part in an outing and members invite a spouse or a friend for a social evening out with dinner. For example, one year they travelled to Dorchester and toured the Keillor House and had lunch at the Bell Inn. The women also meet for lunch as a group during the summer.  One such event included a visit to the Boardwalk at Magnetic Hill. And of course, since it was summer, there was ice cream! Each Christmas members enjoy a festive restaurant dinner with their spouses. They also exchange gifts.


Bell InbFundraising events include

  • Raffle tickets on a handmade quilt and a basket of goodies.
  • Vessey’s bulb fundraiser
  • Brown bag auction or Harvest Goodies are sold at the meeting
  • Cold plate turkey suppers
  • Valentine teas and monthly teas
  • Quilting bees
Veseys Seeds Fundraiser Program - click on the image for details
Veseys Seeds Fundraiser Program – click on the image for details

Kim’s thirteen year-old daughter, has three cousins who live close by and all of them love the women of the WI and look forward to joining when they are older.

“I know that my grandmother Hazel would be proud to think that her daughter Wanda, her granddaughter Kim are members of the WI and that her great-granddaughter Sarah plans to join.”

As you can see, a small but mighty group indeed. The main challenge is the number of members. Kim would dearly love to see the group grow to vast numbers.

So would we.

If you have any words of encouragement or suggestions for Calhoun, they’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to share this story with your memberships, too.

Preaching to the Choir

Our office received a call last week from a member of the Calhoun WI in New Brunswick. The caller wondered if we had any advice about attracting new members. Their group has five.  A mighty five, if you consider their successful door-to-door fundraising efforts for FWIC.

“Are you online?” Kate asked.


Oh, dear.

It’s a perennial problem, this business of attracting new members. That, and communication. Not to mention the dreaded words marketing, branding, or promotion. We are not comfortable with tooting our own horn, are we? We see a job that needs doing and we do it. We don’t brag. Life is busy enough without taking extra time to write about it on a blog or Facebook or Twitter. Who’s got time for that?

Click on image for Google Maps to Calhoun, NB

I turned to Google to find out where is Calhoun, anyway? The Wikipedia entry is a dry as dust. Calhoun is an unincorporated community in Westmorland County, New Brunswick. Okie dokes, thanks, but I want colour, I want commentary, I want to see faces and recipes and projects and events. Me, me, me, it’s all about me!

Well, yes, to a point, but it’s also all about you, too. You are WI. You are a woman inspired and if you are able to connect with other woman around the world via the internet you will encounter thousands, more likely hundreds of thousands of inspiring woman. You are no longer one fifth of a small and isolated branch next the Trans-Canada highway. You are connected to women all over the world.

I re-learned this yesterday as I gathered information for the June 2015 Triennial Convention in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Organizers invite delegates and speakers and others to attend the event. Alternately, they invite them to send greetings. So far the list of invitees includes the usual suspects: the Queen, the Governor General, and the Mayor of Fredericton.

My mission was to suggest names of people, politicians, heads of state, and anyone else who might help to raise the profile of Women’s Institutes in Canada. I felt very much out of the loop celebrity-wise, important women-wise, high-profile women-wise. I don’t watch TV and I don’t read newspapers or magazines. What to do, what to do?

I wrote a blog post  and asked my readers to make suggestions. Within half a day I had compiled a list of over fifty names. Some I knew, but most I did not.

Click here for Ann's TED Talk Video
Click here for Ann’s TED Talk Video

A friend of mine suggest the name of a 16 year-old science inventor Ann Makosinski from Victoria, BC. Ann had invented a flashlight powered by the heat of her hand. She was inspired to help a female friend in Philippines to study after dark, when there was no light.  My friend went on to say,

If the WI is going to go forward, they will need to reinvent the wheel to keep the interest in the next generations. It goes without saying that these kids were born plugged in and we adults are just playing catch up.

As I read this email from my friend, I thought to myself, thanks, but you are preaching to the choir.

Which is exactly what I am doing here: you are reading this online. You are comfortable with technology and know how to make it work for you and your branch.

But what about those who do not have the resources? What about those who do not have the time, money, equipment, or desire to be online?

It’s Membership Monday. I’d like to start a conversation about communication in general and online communication specifically. How we can bring new members to WI? How can we stay in touch with the members we already have and encourage them to try out the new methods of online communication?


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About WI
Women’s Institute is a local, provincial, national and international organization that promotes women, families and communities. Our goal is to empower women to make a difference.

About FWIC

The idea to form a national group was first considered in 1912. In 1914, however, when the war began the idea was abandoned. At the war’s end, Miss Mary MacIsaac, Superintendent of Alberta Women’s Institute, revived the idea. She realized the importance of organizing the rural women of Canada so they might speak as one voice for needed reforms, and the value of co-ordinating provincial groups for a more consistent organization. In February 1919, representatives of the provinces met in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to form the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada.