Headquarters News, Online Membership, Questions

Could a virtual chapter be right for you?

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Should I bring back the regularly scheduled Monday blogs, my friends? I really got into the groove of writing those for a bit! Even though I just published my “Member of the Month” blog last week, let’s do it. (And go read about Serena, if you haven’t done so already. She was really fun to feature!)

Anywayyyy, our Service Program Administrators hosted a Zoom meeting on Friday to teach members about virtual chapters.

I’ve seen a bunch of chatter about the option ever since, so I thought I’d fill you in, in case you missed the Zoom or you’re curious about VCs in general.

I’ll use the terms “virtual chapter” and “VC” interchangeably from here on out — it’s not necessarily a TOPS thing, but a Michelle thing … those who know me, know that I love a good abbreviation (or “abbrev.”) 😉

First things first!

Virtual chapters and the online chapter are NOT the same thing.

Trust me, I understand that those terms are very similar: “online” and “virtual.” But hear me out!

And on a separate note, if anyone wants to help me rename the virtual experience, I’m all ears! I’ve been mulling this over for months, but I’m yet to find the perfect new title or label.

So with that said, when we refer to “online membership” or “the online group,” over here at TOPS HQ, that means the big crew that meets weekly, at set times — with Carol Holtz, although she has some leaders who help out as well (Jim Parker, Mary Layman and Terri Ord are great, and Carol is too, of course!)

Some people prefer that format: Carol leads, you sit back, take notes from the program, or gather the inspiration that you need from that week’s meeting, and you’re free to participate if you’d like, but it’s not required. There is a friendship forum portion of the meeting where you’re welcome to share your successes and/or challenges of the week, but participation is totally optional.

Virtual is something else entirely.

Actually, I wrote about virtual membership — and what a neat experience it was, shadowing VC 0003, one of our pioneer virtual chapters — last year. You can read my story here (there was a condensed version in TOPS News, but if you’re looking for the nitty gritty details, check out that blog I just linked, above). The women of VC 0003 really have their meetings down to a science. There’s no logging onto the big group involved; they truly operate like an in-person chapter would. They weigh in, run the meeting themselves, alternating who leads or what material to use, they check in with one another and share tips/tricks/what’s working/what’s not working, and more.

Even as someone who doesn’t always practice TOPS-style healthy living, I took a lot out of the meetings I attended! There were some really valuable pieces of advice, and I loved watching the camaraderie unfold, as well.

The group meets on Zoom, and the members are spread out across the U.S. and Canada, when it comes to their physical locations. But none of that matters. These women have developed bonds, and their meetings are something to be admired. These members craved a little more interaction than what they got with the bigger online group, which is what prompted them to spin off and do their own thing.

Here’s a note that I want to call out though: Just like with weight loss and healthy living, there’s no perfect solution or “one-size-fits-all” answer here. What works for you, might not work for me, and vice versa. I’m not trying to present VCs as the new best thing. Maybe you’re sitting there, reading along, like, “Yeah, that sounds like a cool option!” Or maybe you’re shaking your head, thinking, “I like listening to Carol’s online meetings. Do I have to change?”

The answer is no — if you’re happy with what you’re doing with the online group, please, stay put! We’re so, so pleased that your needs are getting met, and that you’re satisfied.

It’s also NOT a competition.

Remember when some members were all fired up about the weigh-in rules changing? I started this job in the summer of 2022, and it was around that time. A few of us at HQ found an old Esther Manz quote (our founder) talking about how she’d do anything just to keep people coming to meetings. The idea being, we don’t want you to avoid meetings, just because you’re avoiding the scale. Check in with the group and check in with yourself — Esther (and TOPS!) — just want you regularly attending!

I see this issue sort of like that one. Whether you’re in the big online group, an in-person chapter or a smaller VC: We think it’s excellent that you’re a TOPS member at all, and that’s what counts. 🙂

Personally, I could always envision myself in a VC (actually, I’ve thought about starting a chapter!), and I see it as an area in which TOPS could really grow. Could we do a Type 2 diabetics chapter or a postpartum moms chapter, or “themed” ones? Who knows? All fun ideas though, in my opinion.

This is largely uncharted territory, so if I seem enthusiastic, just know that that’s why. I’m all about TOPS evolving and expanding, so that we can go another 75 years as an organization. Peer-to-peer support is so incredibly important, and that’s regardless of format (online, virtual or in-person).

Anyway, VCs aren’t exactly new; for example, VC 0003 was born in February 2022. But TOPS hasn’t done much in recent years to promote them especially, and we do field quite a few questions about VCs — so we thought we’d do a push. We want to help you guys assemble and organize yourselves into some new virtual chapters.

One good thing about the pandemic (and there aren’t many), but many of us did get pretty familiar with Zoom, and using some of this online meeting technology. Think about all the people who these VCs could help: Members who are homebound, for example, or who move away from their chapters, or who have a hard time traveling to their meetings for any number of reasons. It’s definitely true that the experience is for a certain type of member: Someone who wants to take the reins a bit more, and get involved.

If that’s not you? No big deal! But if it is, just know that this is a cool option that exists.

VC 0003, by the way, is all set with members at the moment, so you can’t join that one — but again, our SPAs hosted that Zoom on Friday in the hopes of getting the ball rolling for any interested parties. We can help you get set up! You can transfer from the bigger online group to a VC, or from an in-person chapter to a VC, but you can only be registered with one chapter — and online does count as a chapter. So that’s one of the items you’ll have to take into consideration.

Otherwise, your membership is the same. It still costs $49 in USD for your first year, and $37 for renewals. We still send you TOPS News and give you access to our materials.

Here’s a page I set up about VCs last time they were “top” of mind, if you’d like to do any more reading.

Just something to consider! Now you know.

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11 thoughts on “Could a virtual chapter be right for you?

  1. Dang, girl! I l just LOVE your blog and your bright and colorful TOPS of MIND banner. It is such a pleasure to spend time here learning about all things TOPS! You make my job as Coordinator so much easier. Thank you for your work!

    1. Major props to our web designer, Jason, on that banner! So nice of you to say, Kim. I appreciate you and all your Coordinator counterparts so much. We couldn’t do this without you!

  2. Spreading the news about virtual chapters with lots of personal interaction among a small group is so helpful. This option is enormously different from the big online chapter. The link to your story about a pioneer chapter yields ideas that could be helpful for new VC to start with as they get to know each other and figure out what is best for them. The link to the page you set up about VC the last time they were featured in “tops of mind” has helpful details from VC0003 including sample bylaws chapter members set up to formalize how the chapter functions and the example of SMART goals.

    I’m a member of VC0003 and will add a bit… Our SMART goals are in one document that is screen-shared during check-in during which we spend about 40 minutes sharing successes and challenges. We limit the group to 8 so that there’s time for meaningful discussion while keeping the overall meeting to 70-80 minutes – reporting weights to Weight Recorder privately via chat, check-in, program, and ending with KOPS and TOPS pledges. Programs are structured to have ample time for discussing the topic rather than just listening to a presentation of information. There’s so much more I could say …. will leave it to each new VC to discover as chapter members grow together.

  3. I was on that meeting, and have an interest in starting a Virtual Chapter, but in a different way: Some of us are interested in starting a KOPS virtual chapter in Alaska because of the demographics up here (Alaska…duh) 😉. However, we want this to be in ADDITION TO our normal physical meetings; none of us are willing to give up our local physical meetings. My SPA (Margie Fisher) is going to look into this with Headquarters, I just wanted to comment on the idea here to see if there was any other interest in the possible ‘waiving’ of the one-chapter-per-member rule, or some other work around…

    1. Jerry, a virtual KOPS society would not be a new chapter under TOPS rules. It would be a KOPS society, which you can join in addition to your TOPS chapter. I hosted 3 virtual KOPS society meetings last year to help our VC KOPS. I don’t know if they continued into this year, but I can check. The virtual platform is great for KOPS societies because there may be few KOPS in an area to hold an in-person KOPS society meeting (or KOPS have to drive a long distance to a KOPS meeting) but meeting via zoom is easy, with people far away can meet up with no travel.

  4. I am very disappointed that you can only belong to 1 type of group. I belong to a local chapter I attend weekly but would also like to start a virtual chapter too. There are many TOPS members that travel and having a travelers virtual chapter would be awesome for us while we’re unable to attend our local meetings. I know there is the option of switching to the online chapter, I was actually an online member at one time but found it to be very impersonal and didn’t care for it.

  5. I’m very much interested in the virtual chapter , I need more information and what do I need to do

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