Bonjour à tous,
It is with immense pride that I present to you the Annual Report for the past year. Despite WICE having experienced a near collapse last summer, the dedication and resilience of the new board of directors, along with the support of our volunteers and members, have enabled WICE to not only survive but thrive.
The journey began in late July, with a new seven-member board stepping up to lead the association, armed with little more than determination and the shared goal of keeping WICE alive. While we had little corporate knowledge at our disposal, we were fortunate to have the continued presence of our previous treasurer, Annie Milgram, ensuring financial stability and providing a much-needed sense of continuity.
The Year in Review
With this inauspicious beginning, the board, in collaboration with our committed volunteers, achieved remarkable accomplishments. I am delighted to highlight some of our key achievements:
- Established a valuable partnership with the Centre Culturel Irlandais, which now provides a dedicated space at 5 rue des Irlandais, 75005, for our Bilingual Book Group to meet in person. We extend our sincere gratitude to Catherine Field for making this partnership possible.
- Maintained continuity in the publication of our bi-monthly newsletter, WICE Direct, thanks to the unflagging efforts of board member Ellen Feldman.
- Sustained five active conversation groups per week, with two live sessions and three conducted on Zoom, throughout the entire year. This continuity allowed our members to connect, practice languages, and foster meaningful relationships despite the challenging circumstances. We thank board member Mary-Jo Reef and volunteers Richard Tran, Dania Lawand, Richard Perlman, and Mike Franks for all their hard work in keeping these sessions active.
- Successfully re-opened Le Patronage Laïque Jules Vallès on Avenue Félix Faure, a much-liked venue for our conversation groups. We are indebted to a generous member donation that made this reopening possible.
- Expanded our language course offerings with the introduction of two new courses, "French Pronunciation" and "French Lit for Fun." These additions brought the total number of French courses to eight, catering to the diverse learning needs and interests of our members. We can thank our vice-president, Jay van Wagenen, who double-hats as language coordinator, for her initiatives here.
- Revived the creative writing department under the direction of novelist Ellen Bryson, and offered a range of eight courses and workshops throughout the year that nurtured the literary aspirations of our talented members.
- Pioneered the establishment of a new Technology Department, headed up by Jonathan Weiland, that provides free monthly Zoom meetings to assist members with everyday computer challenges. Additionally, we began offering personalized tech support visits as well as free monthly classes on various technology applications, such as Google search, Gmail, and iPhone tips and tricks.
- Conducted our first literary museum walk, when Robin Price led 10 WICE members on a tour of the Louvre, where she used a number of period paintings to open discussions about plots points, themes, characters, and locations in Jeanette Winterson's Napoleonic-era novel, “The Passion.”
- Responded to the evolving interests of our dynamic community by introducing a variety of new classes and activities, including Pétanque, haiku, drawing, and knitting, trying to ensure that WICE offers something for everyone to engage and enjoy.
- Successfully reinstated WICE apéros and lunches, fostering a warm and welcoming environment where members can connect and forge meaningful friendships face-to-face. WICE member Dania Lawand deserves the credit for all the hard work that went into coordinating these events.
- Revitalized WICE walks, creating yet another avenue for members to come together and explore the beautiful city of Paris.
- Resurrected our social media accounts by kick-starting WICE's presence on Instagram and Facebook in April 2023. We are currently up to 532 followers on Instagram and 2013 followers on Facebook, giving us a significant increase in marketing reach.
- Welcomed a Volunteer Coordinator, Alasdair Baker, to oversee all volunteer activities. Alasdair has begun streamlining our volunteering processes and making it more enjoyable for individuals to contribute their time and skills to WICE.
- Recruited four exceptional individuals to volunteer for board membership. This will not only fill crucial, legally-required roles, but it will also bring new perspectives and ideas to help drive WICE forward.
- Demonstrated our commitment to financial prudence under treasurer Annie Milgram's excellent financial management by effectively reducing fixed costs in various areas. For further details, please refer to the Finance Report.
- And, in what appears to be a real first, formed a French Driver's License study group of six WICE members who will help each other out in the run up to taking the French driver's license exam.
These accomplishments exemplify the spirit of collaboration, determination, and community that define WICE. We are very grateful to our dedicated volunteers, instructors, members, and supporters for their unwavering support and contributions, without which none of this would have been possible.
The Year Ahead
Looking ahead, we remain committed to fostering a vibrant and inclusive community that nurtures personal growth, cultural exchange, and lifelong learning. Some of the initiatives we plan for this year include:
- Jay van Wagenen, our vice-president, is leading a a team to redesign the WICE logo and graphic identity to update our website, brochures, posters, letterheads, business cards, and any other visual artifact associated with WICE. We are all very excited to see what Jay comes up with.
- Novelist Ellen Bryson, the director of WICE's creative writing department, is putting together a team to plan, organize, and conduct the biennial, world-renown Paris Writers Workshop in the spring of 2024. (And we are all indebted to Monique Amaudry, the former organizer of the PWW, for all the work she's done previously and for the great turnover package she gave Ellen.)
- Ellen is also in discussions for continuing the publication of WICE's literary magazine, "Upstairs at Duroc," under a new WICE Literature Program that will include the bilingual book group, a second book group, author readings, literary museum walks, cold play readings, and featured talks on various aspects of publishing.
- Jonathan Weiland, WICE's IT director, is researching how technology can continue to better serve WICE members. Jonathan's efforts include making it easier for people to join WICE and renew membership as well as making it easier to sign up for classes.
- Robin Price will be continuing with the Literary Museum walks. For the coming year she is considering such books as “Red and Black,” “The Ladies Paradise,” and “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”
- Annie Milgram will be assuming duties as Walks Coordinator, and she has a full plate of interesting walks and tours in and around Paris that she is already organizing for the autumn trimester.
- Nathalie Rodgers is developing a health and wellness partners program that will pull together a variety of existing services and activities—massage, hamam, tai chi, pilates, etc.—for WICE members to take advantage of.
- The Marketing Department will continue to expand our footprint by making better use of the various social media features, such as hashtags, stories and groups, to tailor our content and messages to appeal to, and engage with, the different demographics and interests of our audience.
- The Programs Department is working to expand our course offerings with classes in such things as advanced beginner's French, origami, and watercolor painting.
- The Technology Department is developing a technology channel exclusively for WICE members that will serve as a dynamic hub for exchanging valuable information about life in Paris. Do you need recommendations for a good dermatologist who is currently accepting new patients? Seeking information on securing the senior citizens' discount Navigo fare? Looking for a place to find maraschino cherries for your perfect Manhattan cocktail? Or maybe you'd simply like some companionship for dinner or a night at the theater. Our dedicated technology channel will allow WICE members to reach out and foster meaningful, informative exchanges with other WICE members.
- We are cultivating a series of group activities, such as play readings, knitting, mah-jong, poker, scrabble, bridge, quilting, etc., where members can meet other members and socialize around common interests.
- We are going to re-establish our "Partner's Program" to allow WICE members to get discounts and special offerings from various literary, cultural, artistic, and commercial establishments in Paris and throughout France.
- We are considering establishing a third in-person conversation group for advanced beginners.
- Last but not least, we will be expanding our social events to include a monthly 1st Thursday lunch, a monthly 2nd Thursday afternoon of Pétanque, and a monthly 3rd Thursday evening apéro. (And if you have any ideas for a monthly 4th Thursday activity, do let us know.)
With these exciting plans on the horizon, we are confident that WICE will continue to thrive and provide valuable experiences for our members. Thank you for your continued support and dedication to our association.
Despite all that we've accomplished, and all that we would still like to accomplish, WICE continues to have challenges we need to overcome in order to fully realize our potential.
Volunteers are to WICE what money is to commercial organizations. We will be severely constrained in what we can do without a healthy and robust volunteer corps, and to date we are still lacking volunteers in some much-needed positions.
We are fortunate that Alasdair Baker has filled the position of Volunteer Coordinator. A number of potential volunteers slipped through the cracks this past year because we simply did not have the resources to properly assess and train them. With Alasdair onboard, we are confident we can alleviate this to a large extent.
But we still need more volunteers. Although we get a number of volunteer offers from outside WICE, our preference is for our volunteers to come from within the WICE community. To that end, we are making increased membership the #1 priority this year, and there are a number of initiatives in various stages of development to support that.
In the meantime, we have updated our volunteer page, and I encourage everyone to take a look and consider volunteering for a position that will give us a bump.
Unfortunately, we are bidding a sad farewell to two esteemed board members: Sherry Reckas and Jan Titcombe. Their dedication, passion, and commitment have significantly shaped WICE, leaving an indelible mark on our community.
Sherry Reckas, who has been the board's secretary for the past year, has made a lasting impact through her tireless efforts and unwavering dedication. For eight years, Sherry served as Co-Director of the French English Conversation groups, fostering language exchange and creating meaningful connections among our members. Her invaluable contributions extended beyond the conversation groups, as she volunteered in various committees, including the Executive and the Rules and Regulations Committees. For six years, Sherry served on the Board of Directors, two of which she held the vital role of secretary. Her expertise, wisdom, and warm presence will be greatly missed.
Jan Titcombe, who had been managing WICE's major technology platform, Wild Apricot, brought a wealth of experience and expertise to WICE from her background in Corporate Library/Information Management. The professional acumen and organizational skills she developed in her professional career have been invaluable. Jan's journey with WICE began in March 2015 when she joined primarily for the small French classes. However, her passion and dedication soon led her to assume integral roles within the organization. She played pivotal roles as Operations Manager and Volunteers Director, and the WICE files are filled with outstanding process guides that she wrote. Her unwavering commitment and exceptional contributions have greatly enhanced WICE's functioning.
Sherry and Jan's profound impact on WICE will be felt for years to come. Their dedication, leadership, and genuine care for our community have created a lasting legacy. As they embark on new chapters in their lives, we express our deepest gratitude for their invaluable service and wish them continued success and fulfillment.
I recently heard a long-time WICE member say—a little wistfully—that WICE seems to be going from a continuing education organization to more of a social club. That was not an inaccurate observation, and that shift in focus has not been accidental.
The fact is that WICE's operating environment and demographics have both changed significantly since the mid-00s. And since those changes began, WICE has come close to dissolving twice: once in 2008, and again last summer. I was not part of the WICE leadership team in either situation, and I cannot comment on what the decisions were that led up to each crisis.
What I can easily imagine, though, is that the WICE leadership suffered in some way from what is known in the business world as strategic myopia. Strategic myopia occurs when a organization focuses too narrowly on its existing products or services and fails to see broader market shifts or opportunities. This is a very common occurrence, and it is not meant as a criticism.
But WICE cannot afford strategic myopia now. We need to adapt to the changed realities. Continuing education in the form of language classes, creative writing classes, and all of the other classes WICE offers will always be a fundamental part of WICE's DNA. But it can no longer be our raison d'être. It's just not enough.
We need to evolve into something bigger and more encompassing. We need to evolve into a place where members can—in addition to taking classes that enrich their lives—find more opportunities to meet new people and make friends . . . get answers to pressing questions related to living in Paris . . . live their best lives by engaging in all that Paris has to offer . . . and feel themselves an integral part of a community of like-minded individuals. That's the vision, and we hope that you all join us in embracing it.
And with that, let us all look forward to another great year together.
Rick Jones, President