Informal Group is Example of Ely Chapter - and LAI - Collegiality

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Laurie Marston, FAICP is a consultant providing planning, zoning and economic development services. She presented training workshops to Plan Commissions for ten years as part of a joint program of IL-APA and DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute. She served on the LAI Board of Governors and the Ely Chapter Board. In October 2021 the Illinois Chapter of the American Planning Association presented her with the award for Distinguished Service.




What do you do on the third Thursday of the month? Drawn by their professional ties from working together on projects for years, respect for each other’s work in related professions and shared contributions to the local group Women in Planning and Development, in 2010 five women in the Chicago area decided to gather on the third Thursday for dinner and conversation. Since it was fun, enlightening and inspiring, after a year they expanded the group to ten members and it has since grown to twelve members. Four of the five original members are still active with the group.

The professions of the women include urban planning, cultural planning, law, market analysis, architecture, sustainable design, community development, economic development, affordable housing, senior housing, real estate and civic engagement. Reading that list you might notice that those professions are well represented in LAI. Coincidently ten of the twelve women are members of Ely Chapter. Among the members of the group, four are past presidents of Ely Chapter and three have served on the LAI Board of Governors.

The members of LAI are outgoing, talented, thoughtful people and the friendships that develop and strengthen among the informal group reinforce their ties to LAI. Ely Chapter has set a tone for professional collegiality and it is Ely collegiality, in part, which attracts and retains members. Persons who are disposed to collegiality are also inclined to join our informal group. It is possible that might ultimately lead them to Ely. That benefit to Ely is real, but indirect, as the purpose of the group is definitely not to actively recruit new members for LAI. 

We are a group of friends that share some interests, including public policy. When we discuss public policy whether at the local, state, federal or international level, we often agree but not always. We share our individual perspectives and listen to the others’ views. In any conversation, collegiality prevails.

Our purpose is camaraderie, so there is no pressure to come every month.  Since we are busy due to work, classes, travel, civic duties or family obligations, on a typical evening about six of us gather together. We share multiple professional connections that might lead to teaming on a response to a proposal, suggesting referrals for projects or providing job references. Occasionally we might discuss professional challenges and we feel comfortable doing so. 

Or our evening conversation instead might focus on a personal matter raised by a member seeking some input.   On other evenings we might discuss social, political and/or cultural issues. The mood can be somber or light hearted and often both in the same evening. We have cheered for each other, such as when one of the women was in a local Dancing with the Stars dance competition, and we have comforted each other on the loss of a family member. 

One woman decided to leave the group when she changed jobs, another left to pursue an artistic endeavor, while another relocated out of state to be with a child being treated for cancer. Two were gone for a while when they worked out of state or abroad, but we welcomed them back when they returned to Chicago. 

Before the pandemic we met every month at restaurants in and around downtown Chicago or occasionally at someone’s home. We try different restaurants and explore new culinary offerings in the city. Since the pandemic, we have connected via Zoom every two or three months. As the situation changed, we sometimes met in person and hope to do so regularly in the near future.  

The current members of the group are: Linda Brace, Julie Burros, Susan Campbell, Cassandra Francis, Linda Goodman, Terri Haymaker, Helen Kessler,
Laurel Lipkin, Diane Marshall, Laurie Marston, Donna Pugh and Christine Williams.

Ely Chapter’s experience can be a model for chapters to develop informal groups for camaraderie, friendships and socializing outside official events. The pandemic has many people considering choices about how to spend their time. So an informal group, such as ours, can strengthen ties to LAI and may have an indirect, but an unintended, benefit of membership retention for LAI. We encourage other LAI members to form similar groups to enjoy the collegiality model that LAI represents.

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