Utah League members with Shur Fellow, Haley Richards

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Haley Richards, a Ruth. S. Shur Fellow and a member of the League of Women Voters of Pensacola Bay Area.

The first weekend in August, I found myself leaving the Florida humidity behind for the dry heat of the American West. The purpose of my trip was for the League of Women Voters Membership and Leadership Development (MLD) training in Salt Lake City, Utah. The MLD Program focuses on growing the partnership among the levels of organization (local, state, and national) to grow and revitalize the League. As part of the program, I was attending a weekend of training for League members in Utah and Alaska. Local Leagues from both states sent representatives to receive training focused on strengthening their League and growing the League's impact.

On the first day of training, I woke eager to meet the team of State Coaches that I would be coaching as the Ruth S. Shur Fellow for Utah. I was joined in my new role by LWVUS board member Susan Wilson, who serves as a liaison to both states, and Linda Mahan, the Shur Fellow for Alaska who was also meeting the Alaska team for the first time. We could feel a new energy fill the room as the State Coaches learned about their role and they became more familiar with the MLD material. By the end of the afternoon conversations were full of ideas on how best to equip the LWV of Alaska and the LWV of Utah with the tools to grow membership and develop new League leaders to take on the important issues in each state – from increasing voter participation to prison reform. Local Leagues planned forums on “hot” topics, strategized about voter registration and outreach efforts, and organized for the upcoming legislative sessions.

As the weekend progressed I had the opportunity to meet the local League representatives in Utah from Davis County, Grand County, Salt Lake County, and Weber County and Linda met with the Alaska representatives from Anchorage, the Central Peninsula, Juneau, and Tanana Valley. We sought to create a support structure so that there is always someone available to listen and provide feedback as Leagues work in their communities. We already saw the positive impact that such a structure could have; League members shared stories of successful voter registration drives and forums and made suggestions to the group about which tools and ideas could be used in other Leagues. With each conversation, the opportunities for League growth became more apparent and within reach.

As the weekend came to a close and I headed back to Florida, I said goodbye to my new League friends. The enthusiasm and commitment to the MLD program was strong. I am confident that the League of Women Voters in Utah and in Alaska will remain vigilant in their efforts to make democracy work.