Membership Chair Spotlight 

Cherry Hill EA teamwork keeps members engaged 

By Ani McHugh, NJEA Communications Consultant 

When Cherry Hill Education Association President Steve Redfearn assumed his position in 2016, he inherited a binder with membership paperwork—but his local didn’t have a dedicated membership chair to process any of it.  

Now, eight years later, CHEA has three membership chairs—and it’s one of the leading locals in terms of member enrollment and retention. Nearly 98% of the district’s 1,200 professional staff are active association members, and this level of engagement is the direct result of ongoing and coordinated efforts by Melissa Reitano, Joy Patterson and John Aiello, who manage every aspect of membership.  

Keeping track of and engaging this number of members—who are spread throughout 20 buildings in the district—is no small task, but it’s one Melissa Reitano takes great pride in. Over the years, Reitano has developed a strong working relationship with the district’s Human Resources Department, and the partnership allows her to access employee information and keep her records current.  

According to Redfearn, Reitano has “spreadsheets for everything,” and her commitment to organization helps her process membership applications efficiently, track and follow up with potential members and ensure that staff whose assignments change or who take leaves of absence maintain understand how to maintain their association membership.  

Since the district generally hires between 40 and 70 new staff each year, Reitano says that forming relationships with potential members early on is a critical part of CHEA’s membership successes. Each summer, CHEA membership chairs organize happy hours and dinners for new staff—sometimes even before the district’s first day of new staff orientation—and Reitano takes time at orientation each year to discuss the benefits of membership and distribute applications. She follows up with each potential member to answer their questions, help them become comfortable in their new environment and ensure their association enrollment is processed quickly. 

Once members are settled in, they quickly come to know John Aiello and Joy Patterson, CHEA’s membership chairs who coordinate social functions. One of the challenges large locals face is their inability to meet as an entire membership, since few spaces can accommodate so many people—but Aiello and Patterson do their best to make sure they provide their members with plenty of opportunities to gather together and build relationships outside of their own buildings. In addition to holiday parties and happy hours, members can look forward to comedy shows and Phillies, Sixers and Flyers outings that are organized by their membership chairs.  

In addition to hosting social functions, CHEA leadership works with district administrators to provide meaningful professional development for members. By contributing to a portion of a speaker’s fees, the association is able to have a say in the type and quality of professional development members receive. In October, the district and CHEA joined forces to host Dr. Brad Johnson, an expert in school culture and climate, for an in-service day. Redfearn notes that one of the best ways to highlight the value of membership is to put members’ dues to work for them. 

A final component in CHEA’s success is the association’s ability to communicate consistently and effectively with members. In addition to posting information on the local’s website and multiple social media accounts, Redfearn sends out a newsletter that highlights important news, updates and upcoming events on the 15th of every month.  

Ultimately, it is difficult to overstate the importance of a strong, organized local, and Melissa Reitano, Joy Patterson and John Aiello are proof that membership chairs play a critical role in a local’s ultimate success.  

Key takeaways 

  • Communicate regularly with Human Resources. 
  • Keep records. 
  • Organize events for staff. 
  • Build relationships with potential members early on. 
  •  Take time to follow up. 
  • Offer regular opportunities for new and experienced members to socialize outside of their own buildings. 
  • Make sure members see how their dues are put to work for them. 
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.