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Why you need a sunshine chair

Why you need a Sunshine Chair

New Jersey’s Morris Music Men enjoyed explosive growth by focusing less on contest scores and more on members’ happiness and well-being. Sunshine Chairman Herb Mordkoff plays a key role.

The Morris Music Men is a chorus of about 50 members with a mission to “Make People Happy.” Over the past few years, they worked on developing the Sunshine Chairman role and systematizing much of the work that goes into it so they could help more members and help them feel supported.

The following is a conversation between Nate Barrett, the Music Director, and Herb Mordkoff, the Sunshine Chairman.

NATE: Could you give us an idea of what a Sunshine Chairman does and why it is important to a chapter?

HERB: When a member is absent for some time, the Chairman finds out why he isn’t there and what is going on. If there is an issue, I offer my support and the support of the chorus. I let them know that we’re thinking of them and we miss them. Immediately after hanging up the phone, I send out a “get well” card with a personal note. We get the chorus to amplify the support with phone calls, visits, actual support, etc. We may send a card appropriate to the person’s religion or situation. We also may make a donation to support/help them out, or make a donation to a relevant cause to show support.

NATE: What is the impact you’re trying to make?

HERB: To help members know that we are there for them, and people who may have fallen off often get re-engaged when they know that we’re there for them.

NATE: Our three-part mission is to Make More People Happy, Do a Better Job of Making People Happy, and Make Ourselves Happy. The last
one may sound selfish, but we know that the happier our guys are, the more they can make others happy. Happiness can be a squishy topic,
though. So, as a chorus board, we regularly have conversations about meeting people’s human needs. Our Sunshine Chairman and surrounding programs are essential to supporting members and making them happy. We give them support and stability
when they’re having a rough time and they know they are a part of something bigger than themselves—something special. How could someone feel secure without support/stability or connection?

My family is amazed because they think of it as just a hobby, but there’s so much more to it. We’re really brothers.

NATE: You’re a brother to me, too. A much older brother, but still a brother. To the point about the impact of building a “brotherhood,” some members may not be in need of help right now, but they see the incredible support that other members get and that shows that we really care about “being there for each other.” They know that the same support would be there for them. They see the guy who just got a cancer diagnosis getting calls, having people drive them to appointments, dropping off food, etc. That sticks with people, and they know that they are a part of something special.

HERB: I have reached out to people and had them break down in tears because nobody else knocked on their door. We were their only support.

This April, Herb and Nate celebrated Herb's 31st year of BHS membership

NATE: We had a really strong example of this a few months ago when we were checking on a member we hadn’t heard from. We got no answer on the phone and we didn’t have an address. Some people remembered that he lived above an insurance agency, so we had people go on Google Earth and figure out where he lived. They called downstairs and found out the ambulance just left with him because
he was incapacitated from a severe stroke. There was no emergency contact. Our board members, Rich Petillo and Al Nittolo, called through a Wisconsin phone book to find a family member. They coordinated everything with his sister, helped clean out his apartment, moved his car so it didn’t get towed, and more.

HERB: When the members heard the story, they were so proud to be Morris Music Men and proud to be a member of the Society. We were getting emails thanking everyone involved and congratulating them on their above and beyond heroics that led to a member getting the help and care he needed.

NATE: With the Sunshine Chairmanrole, it’s obvious to talk about the rough parts and the support, but we should also talk about the positive end of it.

We’re there for the hug when they need it, and we’re there to toast the champagne and say “to your health” when things are good. I love putting a card in the mail for a new baby or getting the members to congratulate a recent graduate.

NATE: You obviously love your job. How did you get into the role?

HERB: When I got to New Jersey and joined the Morris Music Men, my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and I was diagnosed with neuropathy. The chorus instantly started reaching out to me and supporting us through it, extending help whenever and wherever it was needed.

Later on, they asked me to join the board because of my marketing background. I can’t drive at night or get around too well because of my
neuropathy. So, I thought that this was the best way to support the chorus and its members: by being there for them in their time of need the same way that the Morris Music Men was for me.

NATE: We were supporting members already, but with you, Herb, we systematized so much of it and created a point person to lead it all. Now, our job as a chapter is pouring gas on the fire when it comes to support so we can make an even bigger difference in people’s lives.

HERB: On top of being the right thing to do, this leads to retention and sustainability.

NATE: In the chorus, we say “Aspiration and inspiration requires stabilization.” So much of what we do with the chorus leadership is aspirational, looking up and figuring out how to bring everyone higher. The Sunshine Chairman and the support systems act as a backboard making sure that people are supported and that we are always there for them. They focus on stabilization so that everything else we do can focus on aspiration and inspiration. Herb, what would you say to anyone reading this thinking that it may be a good idea for their chapter?

HERB: It behooves every chapter to have a Sunshine person and make people’s lives better. If you love your chapter, this is the perfect job for you. All that you need is a phone, a computer, and a warm heart.

NATE: Thank you Herb for all of your efforts to make us all feel supported.

HERB: It’s my pleasure, and I’d be happy to help anyone learn how to do this in their chapter.

About the Author

Nate Barrett

Nate Barrett is a nine-year director of the Morris Music Men Chorus. He now spends time helping other chapters learn how to grow and become a part of their community. He has worked with many chapters, and he is on the faculty of Harmony College East.

Herb Mordkoff, a retired marketing executive, is a 31- year Society member and a member of the Morristown, NJ and North Brookhaven, NY Chapters.

This article originally appeared in the July/Aug 2021 issue of The Harmonizer.