By Irena Nakiene-Valys
As you know, the LAC XXI Board of Directors elections are coming up soon, and will take place in spring 2015. Therefore principal attention will be given to the new candidates, with a review of new faces. Speaking neither theoretically, nor practically, there is needed a newer approach, as until now, the only candidates have been those veterans who have already dedicated years to the Board. It is time to rejuvenate the membership. We could pull together and with a positive air look for the election of more active members, find dynamic candidates, people who want change, those who are concerned about the future of the LAC and who will not lack the time to make firm decisions. Districts and chapters should think about whom to recommend for the coming elections, what to consider and what to accentuate.
“The US National Executive Committee is concerned about the future of the Lithuanian Community. This is such a time of change, when deserving LAC members retire from active Lithuanian life. Who will take their place? Who will come and continue to resolve the matters of the LB organization? “These and other questions were raised with deep concern by National Board president Sigita Simkuviene.
I spoke with the recently arrived Algirdas Grybas, chairman of the LAC New York District and the US LAC National Elections committee which coordinates Board elections.
- Tell me a bit about yourself, what pushed you into LAC activities?
I came to America seven years ago, to study financial engineering in Pittsburgh. After my studies I moved to New York to work in the financial field, but in that city I did not meet even one Lithuanian. Since my whole family lives in Lithuania, my ties to Lithuania were always and are still very strong. I immediately began to search for Lithuanians in New York. Unfortunately, the search was very difficult: I had to make a great effort until I found, thru the internet, a lead to the active and rich Community.
It was obvious that the Community lacked effective dissemination of information; undoubtedly there were those who gave up looking for the community. I created the New York District administrative internet website: www.nylithuanian.org which in three years has become the main source of information among Lithuanians who live in NY State. I urge everyone to visit this website.
- Elections for the LAC Board of Directors will be held May 1-15, 2015. Why are they important? Why should American Lithuanians care about them?
For 7 decades the US LAC has been the only organization that brings together all Lithuanians living in America as well as their family members. The US LAC activities are infinitely diverse: they support Lithuanian schools, organize cultural events, song and dance festivals; sports tournaments, educational symposiums, and they represent America’s Lithuanians in the World Lithuanian Community. The Board of Directors is the most important part of the US LAC, establishing the organization’s direction and methods of action. That is why this election is especially important for Lithuanians living in the US, and the decisions of the candidates elected in them will have an influence on all American-Lithuanian communities. The Board is made up of 70 members, of which 60 will be elected in May. In order to ensure the representation of all regional communities on the Board, the elections will be held in separate regions, in which the community members living there will directly elect their representatives. The number of candidates who make it to the Board will depend on the number of those voting in that region. Thus I urge all those who want a strong, active, long-lived community to become candidates to the US LAC Board, and later to actively vote in the elections.
- A responsible preparation for the elections – a guarantee of success in the work of the Board. In your vision, how does one prepare for the elections?
A successful organization of elections is not possible without a strong, knowledgeable team. I urge district and chapter boards to already form their election committees, taking into account the members’ skills in organizing elections. On Nov. 17, the National Board confirmed an active, creative, National Elections Committee, experienced in organizing elections and volunteers. I have no doubt that thanks to this committee as well as to the district and chapter committees we will hold successful Board elections.
We have to ensure effective dissemination of information about the coming elections. We will seek to spread as widely as possible the information about the LAC Board activities as well as the election process of the National Board, by means of district and chapter information channels, in social centers, and Lithuanian organization offices. We will actively use internet news outlets, we will advocate internet voting, we will check out visual means. We will strive to make sure that there will not be left even one American Lithuanian who would not know that from May 1-15, the US LAC XXI Board elections will be held, and that he/she should participate in them.
Together with district and chapter election committees, we will try to ensure that there will be enough skilled candidates. In the Board elections of 2012, there were voting places where the number of elected candidates equaled the number of candidates – in my opinion, that is not normal. We have to explain the importance of the role of the LAC Board, the duties of the elected representatives, the specifics of the work. The spread of information and the regional community’s news are especially important to reach this goal. The first steps have already been taken: we created the website www.rinkimai2015.us designed especially for the US LAC Board elections. On this website, you will find not only all the information to do with the elections, but you will also be able to vote by internet. All those who have questions about the elections, can already reach us thru the address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- I want to ask you, as a former XX Board member, which board decisions, which projects did you personally take part in?
On the XX Board, I was a member of the By-laws committee. Together with the committee chairman Arvydas Barzdukas and other committee members we renewed the organization by-laws and the amendments proposed by the rules committee and confirmed by the Board, as well as renewing the format of the by-laws and preparing an electronic form of the by-laws. With the help of Tomas Girnius we prepared an English language version of the by-laws. We believe that this work will be finished by the session of the next Board.
Since in recent years there was much discussion among Board members about the role of districts, as NY District Chairman I participated actively in the discussion. At the time of the Third Session in Los Angeles I presented a vision of district activities, and discussed this theme with several session participants. I am happy that the participants are actively interested and discuss possible changes, appreciate new ideas without preconceived notions.
A Board session is a perfect occasion to share regional problems with other Board members, build relations with specialists in several areas and higher government representatives. During the session I was able to meet Lithuanian and US government representatives, whom we now inform about our activities, and invite to our meetings. With financial specialists we discussed how to increase our organization income, to better use the resources that we have.
- As a member of the Board, did you meet with communities, which current issues did you deal with?
I am not only a member of the US LAC, but also chairman of the NY District. During the last 3 years, there were many changes in NY State: the Brooklyn-Queens and Manhattan-Bronx-Staten Island chapters joined the NY City Chapter, a new chapter was formed in Eastern Long Island, and the Rochester Chapter, which had formerly been in the Ohio District, joined our district. I worked to inform the new board members about their duties and the work processes of the organization. To that purpose, in the beginning of 2014 I arranged a teleconference between NY and neighboring chapters and districts, during which the by-laws committee chairman Arvydas Barzdukas and legal issues counsel Rimas Domanskis answered their board members’ questions about the organization’s work. We shared the recording of the teleconference with all American Lithuanian communities. I hope that this will encourage other districts to actively educate their chapters and discuss any problems that may come up.
The NY district also changed its course: rather than organizing cultural events together with its chapters, it became the first contact point and primary source of information about all Lithuanian activities in NY State. We administer an internet website, a weekly newsletter of over 1100 subscribers, a Facebook account, Twitter and YouTube channels. We’ve heard many times that it is difficult for the National Board to circulate information to chapters, that there is a lack of active cooperation. I believe that by successfully developing these sources of information, we strengthen not only the chapters but the National Board as well to effectively disseminate information to the Lithuanians living in NY State.
- What remarks do you have for the improvement of future Board sessions?
Since the Board only meets once a year, and only for one week-end, there will be important information and interesting discussions far outside that particular time. Therefore I would like to see clearer priorities, what to try to achieve during the Board session times. I believe that the agenda should be set so that by Saturday evening all questions to do with the organization’s operation would be resolved. I’m disappointed that at both sessions that I attended, the amendments to the by-laws, the most important legal document regulating our organization’s operations, were deliberated on Sunday, when a great part of the session’s participants had already left for home. I value all the announcements by the session’s guests, but if we don’t manage to deal with the organization’s structurally important issues in time, pretty soon there will be no one to hear those announcements.
I’m also anxious about the inadequate number of session participants. There are a lot of reasons for this: the irresponsibility of elected Board members, the limited time that board members work together outside of the Session, expenses of the trip. We have to attract more candidates so that the election to the Board would be active, competitive. Then those who made it will value the post and responsibly participate in the activities of the organization. I am happy that the vice-president in charge of organizational affairs, Austeja Sruoga, took upon herself to organize regular teleconference conversations among district chairmen. That will help extend the discussions begun the session, and maintain contact between the chairmen and the National Board.
- How should we work in order to ensure the organization’s long life?
The engine that moves any organization’s work is the people who act in it. In order for them to act willingly, actively and creatively, the organization’s activities must be current, the results clear and important. I think that the times when all you had to do was wave the flag of lietuvybe (Lithuanian identity, heritage, culture) and regiments of Lithuanians would run to an event and stay unconditionally in the ranks of national organizations are long gone. Lithuania changes deeply, at times the Lithuanian attitude toward lietuvybe, its national identity, changes too, and we need to change with them, to adapt to the present-day actuality. In working to ensure the long life of an organization, we have to emphasize its objective purpose, why the organization’s work is valuable and significant to its members, to raise clear goals and to assess the results of its work. Lietuvybe must be not an innate obligation, but a value in which every member of the community can be proud. When people join an organization not only because of its national identity but also because of its concrete value, we can be assured of the future of that organization.
- What suggestions do you have to bring in more youth into the work of the LAC?
First of all, we have to remember that America’s Lithuanian youth is very diverse: we have Lithuanians who were born in America and those who came here as adults. Among the immigrants we have those who are living here illegally, doing unqualified work and graduates of the best universities in the world, those who know several foreign languages and those working in the most famous world companies. Among these social groups the viewpoint towards Lithuania, the national identity abroad and expectations from the Community are very different, and none of them are similar to those which were common 50 years ago. Secondly, thru technology our youth abroad does not feel that it has lost touch with Lithuania: there is no end of discussion with those left in Lithuania, and it even carries into virtual space. This youth doesn’t feel the hunger for nationhood, nor the demand to express its solidarity with the Fatherland and its national identity, which the “second wave” felt in the years of oppression. That doesn’t mean that the present-day youth is not patriotic. The Community is important to them, but it is only one of several possible areas of action. It’s wonderful that we have successfully adopted the modern means of information dissemination: almost every chapter now has a Facebook account. To change the form of communication and the nature of events is more difficult. We must make an effort to interest youth not thru sentiment, nor thru a nostalgic prism of historic or religious events, but by showing them the value of membership in the Community, living a common, daily life: let’s organize basketball game broadcasts in bars, picnics with tents by a lake and local sport tournaments, let’s discuss professional, social themes. If the Community appears in the life of young people only when it’s time to go to church, or donate, or work, will we ever get any more interest?
I am sure that there are enthusiastic board members who value continuing the work, but I appeal to those community members who, to the questions “whom should I vote for” would not answer “there is no one to vote for”. We have the time to begin to prepare for the new XXI Board elections and we will await the new election ballots.
I thank Algirdas Grybas for giving us the chance to talk, and I wish him success in his meaningful work.
Interview by: Irena Nakiene Valys
US LAC Eastern CT Chapter Chair
US LAC XX Board of Directors Member
WLC Congress Member