Escarpment Toastmasters – the Little Club that Could!
Bryn Snow Club President, Escarpment Toastmasters, Milton, Ontario
Imagine starting a Toastmasters club right at the beginning of a global pandemic. Not a local outbreak, not an epidemic affecting a large area, but a pandemic creating illness and the death of millions through the entire world.
This is exactly the experience of Escarpment Toastmasters in Milton.
Karen Pantaleo, DTM, with the support of Louis Li and Lou Mulligan, DTM, all members of Milton Toastmasters, spent about a year promoting the idea of a second Toastmasters club in that town west of Toronto.
After a year of meetings as an unchartered group, Escarpment Toastmasters finally realized its vision and received its charter on March 21, 2020.
A week prior to this, on Friday, March 13 Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that the province’s schools would be shut down for two weeks following March break in response to the rising Covid cases. It would be six months later before schools would re-open.
Suddenly, long lines at supermarkets and other businesses formed (most, of course, crowded with mask-less patrons). Items such as toilet paper and meat were hoarded. Some people reported seeing individuals with shopping carts piled high with meat and then store shelves bare of food.
Quickly, Escarpment Toastmasters reverted to a virtual format. Thankfully, their members were comfortable enough with Zoom applications that meetings took place with only a few glitches.
Escarpment members, along with most other Canadians, hoped that the restrictions would only last a few months. That was then, this is now. One year later, everyone is still meeting virtually!
On this long road, members have strengthened their resolve and adjusted to the new norm. Not everyone has been happy. Most members struggled with long daily working hours plus the online Toastmasters meetings. Backs ached and eyes glazed over following hours of screen time. Childcare issues, interruptions, or a combination of these erected more challenges to confront.
Members picked up all sorts of new skills. These skills may serve them well - it seems that many meetings and interviews will move online in the future. Members navigated through Zoom buttons and adapted to the use of Google forms to evaluate speakers. To stir up a bit of holiday cheer, the club organized a virtual Christmas party, enjoying holiday traditions around the world.
The club is happy to report that they are in good status with Toastmasters International: enough members renewed prior to the March 31 deadline to achieve this goal. However, since December, together with the Milton Toastmasters club, the club has engaged with membership building projects to increase their base still further. They’ve explored online platforms such as MeetUp, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and currently make tickets available to their meetings on Eventbrite.
Escarpment has learned a great deal through launching a new club during the pandemic. Given that they have little club history, they’ve faced the dual challenges of pandemic uncertainty and the task of building expertise within the club. The experience has been tough. But members feel that if they can succeed, even in a small way, during this challenging time, they will be able to grow even further when (finally) Canada and the world return to some sort of normalcy. As they say, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”