by Luke H.
More often than not I don’t know a thing about what I’m doing when I first try something, and what I do know is usually wrong. Such has been my experience with Teleservice in San Francisco. I heard it was what other people in the Fellowship did for service. I heard that it was hurting, with volunteers dropping and leadership in general disarray. I didn’t pay much attention, though. I never felt compelled to help out even when I heard some passionate members push to breathe life back into the organization.
Passionate members pushed to breathe life back into it
My experience getting involved with Teleservice reminds me of a phenomenon I experienced some years ago growing up in Orange County. Have you ever had a favorite radio station that keeps playing a really awful song that you totally hate? When I was younger, I listened to KROQ 106.7 all the time. My clock radio woke me up by playing KROQ. Almost without fail, Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” would be playing first thing in the morning. Every. Single. Morning.
I swore that the DJs were doing this to ruin my morning. I already had to be in class by 7:20 so this was just adding insult to injury for me. Weeks passed. Months flew by. Gradually I found myself singing along to “Banana Pancakes” as I awoke to it. I even bought Jack Johnson’s entire discography on CD (I still stand by this decision – he rules).
Bringing it back to Teleservice now: I heard Lara A. announce at what seemed like every meeting that Teleservice wasn’t doing too well. Every week, she made the same announcement. Eventually, she approached me and asked if I was interested in helping out. I found myself saying “yes” and promising that I would be at a Gratitude Center ad hoc orientation on Saturday. I had heard Teleservice talked about enough that I realized I had but one choice: help out to ensure the future of this great part of the service work, made possible by Intergroup.
I was sure I was going to tank
I attended and said I would take a regular shift. Should there be an opening, I didn’t mind being a Daily Coordinator (keeping scheduled volunteers apprised of shifts and helping volunteers get coverage if needed). Lara got back to me within a day or so and said I had a shift. I was now a Daily Coordinator for Wednesday. Wait, what? I hadn’t even done my first shift and I needed to help out a crew of seasoned volunteers every week. I was sure I was going to tank.
Almost three years have passed since then. I appreciate and love Teleservice more than ever before. We have great Daily Coordinators and even better volunteers. Were it not for COVID-19, we would have had our annual volunteer appreciation brunch, at some church last remodeled in the late 1970s, I’m sure. The last one in 2019 was pretty great – so many people I had emailed, talked to on the phone yet had never met in person! We actually got to meet each other and share some laughs over chilled Minute Maid orange juice.
I encourage you to come and join us on the third Monday of the month at 6:00 p.m. for orientation. We have a lot of fun helping out still-suffering alcoholics. Until then, I’ll keep announcing the same entreaty each week at the meetings I attend for others to join me for fun with Teleservice. It grows on you like banana pancakes.
Our volunteers in Teleservice, HelpChat, and our email help responders, as well as trusted servants for some groups, say that there appear to be more and more folks being ordered by the court system (judges, probation officers, lawyers, etc.) to attend A.A. meetings. How should your group respond? This is a matter for a group conscience, and once a decision is made about handling these new folks, how do we let them know that they can or can’t get attendance verified? And how do we do it in a pandemic where most meetings are still held online?
The Fourth Tradition states that each group is autonomous, and thus can decide whether or not to cooperate and sign “court cards” or provide some other attendance verification. This was true prior to the pandemic; some groups used to state “no court cards” on the schedule, when almost all meetings were in person. The presumption often was that unless the group so stated, that court cards would otherwise be signed.
Some court-connected entities have told their clients that screen shots of zoom meeting photo grids, where the court-ordered newcomer’s picture appears, would provide the necessary verification. This clearly violates A.A.’s anonymity strictures, and so we are hoping to avoid this practice by implementing something mutually agreeable. But the groups need to act.
Especially if you are a group’s trusted servant (secretary, treasurer, IGR, or GSR) please raise this issue and help your group make a decision (via a business meeting, just like any other matter of group conscience) about whether to provide attendance verification, and how to then implement that decision.
Implementation could be as simple as designating a “court card signers” who is willing to communicate with newcomers via chat during the meeting and subsequent emails to verify attendance. (If you’d like, you can set up a group email account to be used for many purposes, including this one.) One important function is for this service position to tell the newcomer that it is outside A.A.’s purview to determine what is or is not acceptable verification. It’s also important to be clear with newcomers that A.A. is not affiliated in any way with any outside enterprise: this includes any part of the legal system. Attendance verification, if provided, is simply for the newcomer’s convenience and at their request.
Make announcements in the meeting about attendance verification and how to achieve it. But screen shots of meeting photo grids are not allowed, in order to protect all members’ anonymity.
In the meantime, our San Francisco Public Relations Committee and Marin PI/CPC are trying to inform various elements of the court system about what A.A. does and does not do. This is an ongoing effort, to emphasize our singleness of purpose (helping the alcoholic who still suffers).
For more reading on this matter, please refer to these materials:
Q: Will government officials be checking up on the meetings and what repercussions?
A: Local government officials may be made aware of these meetings but not specifically going to be checking up on them. Meetings that are not following the guidelines of the county have the potential to be cited.
Q: Will meetings that are, and have been, meeting without registering be subject to repercussions?
A: Groups have the possibility of being cited by government officials if the guidelines are not followed. With our fourth tradition in mind, each group can decide how they would like to run their meeting but citings due to not following the guidelines can affect other groups or A.A. as a whole.
Q: What part of AA is handling this interface with the county?
A: Marin PI/CPC as representatives for A.A. worked with the county to provide experience in the development of these guidelines. Individual groups will be in charge of contacting parks to determine meeting availability and additional protocols on top of the guidelines.
Q: How to best disseminate this information so that groups get the message?
A: The guidelines and Q&A will be on the aasfmarin.org website and aamarin.org website. Please direct people to these sources, and inform them that the county has produced guidelines for all outdoor recovery meetings.
Q: Will there be contact with meetings that are listed as in-person so they know about these guidelines?
A: Our hope in putting on this Town Hall was to get this information out to the fellowship, and members from the groups we know are already meeting in person were contacted. Please direct people to the guidelines on the aasfmarin.org and aamarin.org websites.
Q: Will in-person meetings be listed?
A: Each group will decide if they would like to register with Intergroup and have their meeting listed on the aasfmarin.org website.
Q: What parks are available for our use?
A: As of this moment, Marin County Parks and Rec is taking applications for recurring use permits in all Marin County Regional Parks. Other types of parks, such as City Parks and Marin County Open Spaces, will need to be contacted directly for availability.
Q: How do the guidelines affect the meetings that have been meeting before there were guidelines?
A: These guidelines are in effect for all outdoor recovery meetings currently meeting in person or planned. Violations of these guidelines could result in citings which could affect other groups or A.A. as a whole.
Q: Anonymity! How long for groups to keep a contact tracing list?
A: Each group will have to determine how best to facilitate this list; recommend keeping the list for each meeting for three weeks.
Q: Please clarify suggestion for 7th tradition donations.
A: The guidelines note not to pass a basket around the group, if groups would like to donate physical currency, they recommend having a basket at the entrance or exit for members to deposit money into. Electronic contributions are recommended to avoid contact. Please note
that in some parks, if physical money is collected, there will be an additional fee for this. Coordinate with the Parks and Rec Department for the park you are meeting in.
Q: Will groups be responsible for providing insurance?
A: This is dependent on the park location of the meeting, insurance is available through Intercounty Fellowship of A.A. for a one-time fee of $50. Visit aasfmarin.org for more information.
Q: Will we need more work regarding insurance responsibility?
A: Each group will be responsible for providing necessary documentation for the park that they are meeting in.
Q: Are the guidelines contingent on the state and/or county status? Might they change?
A: We adhere to the strictest guidelines, and the county can not overrule the state requirements. The parks may have different requirements as time goes on and we begin to open back up.
Q: How does “first come, first served” affect group use and “between group” coordination?
A: Certain parks, such as Corte Madera Town Park, are on a first come, first served basis, but the Corte Madera Parks and Recreation Department is asking that groups call first to let them know they are coming so as to not overwhelm the park with multiple groups at the same time.
Q: What are the various costs for use of parks and permitting? Is the cost per use or a day permit?
A: For Marin County Regional Parks, there is a non-refundable one-time fee of $34 to file an application for a recurring use permit. This permit covers recurring meetings for the extent of time approved by Marin County.
Q: Should we contact other parks directly to find out about use?
A: Yes, similar to how we used to rent a meeting space and coordinated with the facility in charge, groups should contact the Parks and Rec Department of the park they are interested in and work with those in charge of managing that park to determine availability and protocols
required in addition to the guidelines.
Q: Is the application fee a one-time fee?
A: For Marin County Parks and Rec applications, yes. The application fee is only charged to apply for the recurring use permit, not per use or for individual days.
Q: Is the application fee site specific and will groups need to submit applications for each location that they want to use?
A: For Marin County Parks and Rec, the application fee is for each permit application submitted. The location and sites requested by the recurring use permits are up to Marin County to be approved or denied.
Q: Are there recommendations regarding temperature checking devices? How should groups manage temp checks for outdoor meetings?
A: We recommend each group hold a group conscience to determine how they would like to screen members for COVID-19 symptoms.
Q: How to manage group size limits? Newcomer priority consideration for meetings?
A: We recommend each group hold a group conscience to determine how they will handle additional members arriving above the meeting limit attendance.
Q: How should groups handle contact lists?
A: Each group can identify someone to keep a contact list. Please note that if someone develops symptoms of COVID-19, we do not need to break a person’s anonymity to let the nurse know who they have been in contact with; we don’t need to mention that it was an A.A. meeting. Also, if the infected member was not within six feet for more than 15 minutes with another person, contact tracing doesn’t apply.
Q: What information is required for a contact list?
A: First and last names and phone numbers.
California has a blueprint for reducing COVID-19 in the state with revised criteria for loosening and tightening restrictions on activities. California’s Stay at Home Order applies statewide and sets a floor on what the County can do. Local health officers can adopt stricter public health orders as warranted by local conditions but cannot be less restrictive than the State Order.
Certain groups, including people aged 65 or older and those with serious underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, are at higher risk of hospitalization and serious complications. Transmission is most likely when people are in close contact or in a poorly ventilated area with an infected person, even if that person does not have any symptoms or has not yet developed symptoms.
At this time all participants in group counseling services (incl. recovery support groups) should attend meetings remotely. Groups should make accommodations for remote support to the maximum extent feasible. If remote participation is not feasible, recovery support groups may convene outdoors if they comply with the requirements for participation (below). Groups should create stable cohorts capping group size (limit of 12, including any group leaders) to reduce in-person interactions.
Requirements for Participation
- Identify an individual to serve as the “host” who will be responsible for gathering participant names and contact information* and ensuring compliance with the social distancing requirements, Health Officer Order on Face Coverings and other pertinent best practices, such as the following:
- Screen attendees for COVID-19 symptoms (for screening tool example, CLICK LINK HERE). Participants with symptoms should not attend; offer them a list of remote meetings.
- Consider reducing the meeting length to lessen the risk of virus transmission.
- At present, open space and parks operated by the County and local jurisdictions, including Marin County Parks, has attendance maximums that vary by site at permitted outdoor park venues. Consult with local jurisdictions regarding the specific venue to identify capacity limits and other pertinent requirements, including completion of the Marin Recovers Site Specific Protection Plan.
Set-Up and Clean-Up
- Implement one-way foot traffic directional patterns and designate a foot traffic control monitor (sample below).
- Implement phased entrance and release, as opposed to everyone moving at once; Allow for extra time between meetings to ensure that attendees can return to their vehicles or otherwise leave in a socially distanced manner.
- Design seating arrangements to provide a minimum of six feet separation between non-household attendees.
- Disinfect chairs between before and after use.
- Provide clear signage requiring attendees to remain socially distanced in household groups, follow the marked flow of foot traffic, wear face coverings as required by the Health Officer Order for Face Coverings.
- Attendees shall be required to bring their chairs or blankets as needed for participation in meetings to prevent sharing of these items.
- Umbrellas, canopies and other shade structures may only be used if they do not have sides and allow for the free flow of air through the space.
- Greet attendees in a way that maintains six feet of separation without physical contact.
- Do not bring food and beverages to share.
- Do not loan out or pass around books or other tangible other items to individuals for use and return. Text, images, or other information may be projected or otherwise displayed for viewing during meetings without contact.
- Use no-interaction approaches to giving, such as online giving or having attendees place donations in a basket upon leaving the meeting.
- Avoid sharing microphones. If microphones must be shared, disinfect the microphone between each individual’s use.
- Attendees must be required to leave as soon as the meeting has concluded. No continued gathering shall be permitted.
- The host must maintain a list with names and contact information of all participants. If a participant tests positive for COVID-19, the host shall assist the County Public Health Department in any case investigation and contact tracing* associated with the gathering.
* Please remember that maintaining social distancing (6 feet) is one of the most effective ways to engage in meetings safely and preserve the ability to maintain anonymity. For example, if a participant tests positive for COVID-19 but was not within 6 feet of any fellow participant for 15 minutes or more, then there may not be any need to contact participants for quarantine and testing.
The county Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that allows government workers (in addition to law enforcement officers) to cite violators of COVID-19 public health rules. The public is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org to report violations.
Marin Recovers: Safely Re-Opening Marin County from COVID-19: www.MarinRecovers.com
Marin County HHS COVID-19 Information
- Website: Visit https://coronavirus.marinhhs.org/
- Information Line: 415-473-7191 – Phone calls will be answered Monday-Friday, 9:30am-12:00pm and 1:00pm-5:00pm
- Online: Visit https://coronavirus.marinhhs.org/contact to submit an inquiry
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Sample Seating and One-Way Foot Traffic Flow
** Please note: The Buzz will increase in frequency at the end of the month. We received feedback after the first few months of shelter-in-place that frequent communications and updates were appreciated and desired. Our hope is to, eventually, use this platform to provide more specific information about our Intergroup Service Committees and larger A.A. Service Entities for a more comprehensive local A.A. digital experience.**
Town Hall #3 is Rapidly Approaching!
Our third Town Hall meeting will be held Thursday, August 20th, 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Our first workshop-style format, this meeting will focus on keeping virtual meetings safe, using “breakout rooms” to create space for newcomers and fellowship in the digital world, and managing digital contributions. Discussion will include how all of these topics, together, can provide group members with novel (and exciting!) service commitments. Join us and share how your group has tackled some of these issues during our open sharing session. Please see this link for meeting info.
August Intergroup Meeting
The summary from our August Intergroup meeting is posted. Included are the IFAA financial reports through June 2020, as well as the meeting minutes.
The 45th Annual Western Roundup Living Sober Conference 2020 will be held Aug 21 – Aug 23. This conference is the oldest and longest-running LGBTQ AA/Al-Anon Conference in the country! Click flyer or here to learn more.
Call to Action: Step into Service
Looking for ways to stay involved and be of service to your A.A. community? Feeling deprived of your usual group service commitments? (We’re looking at you, sorely missed coffee and sweeties). Getting involved with our various Service Committees is a great way to stay connected and contribute outside of your usual meetings.
Love historical stuff? Try our IFAA Archives Committee. Dying to pick up the phone and talk to another alcoholic? Check out SF Teleservice and Marin Teleservice (Orientation & Business Meeting). Some other groups who are holding meetings in the second half of this month are Marin General Service, Marin PI/CPC, and CNCA. Additional information for each of these… and MUCH more… can be found on our Events Calendar.
IFAA Bookstore is still in operation, and will be closed on Labor Day, Monday, Sept 7th, 2020. You may order literature, books and chips ONLINE at our website. We will ship (at a reduced rate) via UPS or make your order available for curbside pick up, Monday through Friday, from 10 AM to 4 PM.
For the love of coffee and sweeties, please share this information with your social media communities and encourage your A.A. fellows to subscribe to The Buzz. All of our prior updates can be found here.
Your IFAA Intergroup | Central Office
On July 16th, Intergroup hosted its second Town Hall. The main topics discussed were liability regarding potential return to in-person meetings, and what “hybrid” meetings might look like. Links to the slides and minutes are here. Ideas for the next Town Hall include a “Trusted Servants Workshop” for online meeting management, focusing on co-hosting/security/spiritual bouncer role and/or using breakout rooms for fellowship and/or tools for supporting newcomers. Have suggestions for additional topics? We’d love to hear them. Send to: email@example.com.
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings…
In-person meetings at Gratitude Center and Dry Dock have resumed (with restrictions). Please visit their websites for in-person meeting specifics. Additionally, Marin’s PI/CPC (Public Information / Cooperation with the Professional Community) have connected with the Marin Department of Health and Human Services regarding the potential for outdoor sites as meeting places. More to come on that.
With this increasing complexity of meeting mediums, our aasfmarin.org website will soon be returning to our former meeting schedule format which has been updated to allow for remote (phone/online) and hybrid meetings. We hope to have it up and running within the next week. Stay tuned for further updates and a Call to Action! Why? In the transition, we may lose some meeting information and we need all hands on deck to help us validate that meeting info is accurate. Please keep an eye out for that communication which will include a link to a new and improved webform for members to use to Register as a Trusted Servant, List a New Meeting, or Update an Existing Meeting. All in the same place! Isn’t that exciting?
Historically, many groups hold elections in June. If you are a new Treasurer or Secretary, please help us out and register as a Trusted Servant as soon as the new form goes live! Along these lines, a gentle reminder to please send in contributions if your term just ended and your group has funds to distribute.
The 45th Annual Western Roundup Living Sober Conference 2020 will be held virtually the weekend of August 21 – August 23 and is FREE to register! This is THE oldest & longest running LGBTQ Alcoholics Anonymous conference with Al-Anon participation in the WORLD. See here for more info.
Service Committee Meetings/Orientations:
- Technology Committee (online) – August 3rd @ 6pm – email firstname.lastname@example.org for an invitation to join the virtual meeting. More info here.
- Intergroup Representative Orientation (online) – August 4th @ 6:30pm – Meeting link here.
- Intergroup Meeting (online) – August 5th @ 7pm – Meeting details here.
- The Point Committee Meeting (online) – August 8th @ 12:30pm – Meeting link here.
- Golden Gate Young People in A.A. (online) – August 9th @ 12pm – Meeting link here.
- SF Public Relations Committee (PI/CPC) (online) – August 10th @ 6:30pm – Meeting info here.
- Marin H&I Orientation (online) – August 11th @ 6:15pm – Meeting link here.
- Business meeting @ 7:15pm – link here.
- SF New GSR Orientation (online) – August 11th @ 6:30pm – Meeting info here.
Business meeting @ 7:30pm – link here.
Our second Town Hall meeting is tomorrow night, Thursday, July 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. We will resume our discussion on considerations for resuming in-person meetings with information on liability and technology for Hybrid meetings. We will also share updates from Intergroup and continue with an open dialog about working together as a community. Updates include some sneak previews and we hope to see many of our SF and Marin members in attendance. We will add additional content here, where the information from the June Town Hall is located, for you to reference during and after the meeting and for all who cannot attend.
While the majority of meetings remain closed – or remote, the IFAA Bookstore is still in operation! You may order literature, books and chips ONLINE at our website. Central Office is closed to walk-in customers, however we will ship (at a reduced rate) via UPS or make your order available for curbside pick up, Monday through Friday, from 10 AM to 4 PM. Please help us get the word out that this service, nor any of our others, have been interrupted.
The summary from our July Intergroup meeting is posted. Included are the IFAA financial reports through May 2020. The July issue of The Point has also been posted and, once again, includes an audio recording. The Point Committee is always looking for content; we’d love to read your stories of experience, strength and hope. Featured articles will be on H&I at Friendship House plus other locally written stories. More information can be found here.
In addition, several service committees will hold their monthly meetings in the second half of this month. Among them are SF H&I, IFAA Archives, SF Teleservice, Marin General Service, Marin PI/CPC, CNCA and the Marin Teleservice (Orientation & Business Meeting). And an advance heads up: the August Intergroup meeting will be on Wednesday, August 5, so mark your calendars! Additional information for each of these … and more … can be found on our Events Calendar.
All decisions will be re-evaluated as the situation changes; we are doing our best and appreciate your support and understanding.
Your IFAA Intergroup | Central Office
An excerpt from The A.A. Group… where it all begins pamphlet published by A.A. World Services:
The purpose of all A.A. group meetings, as the Preamble states, is for A.A. members to “share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” Toward this end, A.A. groups have both open and closed meetings.
Closed meetings are for A.A. members only, or for those who have a drinking problem and “have a desire to stop drinking.”
Open meetings are available to anyone interested in Alcoholics Anonymous’ program of recovery from alcoholism. Nonalcoholics may attend open meetings as observers.
At both types of meetings, the A.A. chairperson may request that participants confine their discussion to matters pertaining to recovery from alcoholism. Whether open or closed, A.A. group meetings are conducted by A.A. members who determine the format of their meetings.