Reflecting on 14+ years with WCAAP’s Board of Trustees

Rupin Thakkar, MD, FAAP

After 14 years of serving on the board (17 years total including my time as a residency representative), I can’t believe this is the last column I am writing from a seat on the chapter leadership.  The recent joke has been that my new title should be chapter historian (but that title truly should belong to Ed Marcuse who was a founding board member, president for multiple terms, and remains actively engaged today).  In that vein, I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on the enormous change the WCAAP has gone through in the past 14 years.

When I started on the board, we had a single monochrome webpage and a quarterly paper newsletter. Legislators primarily heard from our legislative committee, our legislative liaison, and the approximately 30 members who attended our annual advocacy day.  While I’m very proud of the WCAAP’s accomplishments during my term as president, I think I’m most proud of my time as our communications coordinator.  Back then, that job was a trustee volunteer position.  Our then membership chair, Julian Ayer, and I created the bones of our current website, commissioned our current logo, launched our legislative action center and electronic legislative action alerts, and created this newsletter.  As we began to burn out maintaining these communication and advocacy tools, the board wisely decided to add a Communications Manager staff position.  After a couple short-term managers, we hired Jennifer Donahue in 2012, who thankfully remains our manager today.  Jennifer took our communications to a new level and continues to increase our effectiveness and outreach.  Every communication you, our partners, and our state decision-makers receive from our chapter has her fingerprints on it.  Given that we now connect with many more legislators in multiple ways and exceed 100 attendees at our advocacy days, she particularly impresses during the legislative session.

At the start of my term on the board, we had two part-time staff people supporting about 600 members.  We now have nearly 1200 members supported by 10 staff people.  We were able to grow our staff due to the board recognizing the need to diversify our income.  We shifted from relying only on membership dues to seeking program grants and philanthropic dollars.  But what truly made the biggest impact on our chapter growth was hiring Sarah Rafton as our ED.  I still brag about leading the search committee that hired Sarah in 2015.  I have never met a more passionate and fiercer advocate for kids and families than Sarah.  She is truly a master in multi-tasking, managing, strategizing, building partnerships, fundraising, and communicating.  Sarah has hired, trained, and supported every other staff person we have added since, assembling a team of true superstars.

When the chapter was smaller, our activism and educational programs ebbed and flowed depending on the priorities and bandwidth of a small number of volunteer leaders.  The financial and staffing model we have today allows for greater continuity and sustainability.  A cultural shift on the board also underlies the larger impact of the chapter in recent years – an expectation that every board member will be fully engaged and where many members beyond our board contribute their time and expertise.  I wish I had space to acknowledge the many pediatricians whom I’m grateful to count as mentors and friends.  I look forward to continued participation in the chapter in new ways and to continue learning from our staff and fellow members.  The WCAAP is truly a professional home.