Intergroup/Central Offices: A.A.'s Front Line


Intergroup/Central Offices: A.A.'s Front Line
Reprinted from the August-September 2007 Issue of Box 459, the GSO Newsletter
     Back in 1946 when only a handful of intergroup/central offices were fully operative - including those in
California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Ohio - A.A. co-founder Bill W. observed in the
June issue of the Grapevine, "Heaven has surely reserved a special place for every one of them." Even as
hewas writing, service centeres were opening in Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Wisconsin and
Canada's first - Alberta.
     Both Bill and his fellow A.A. co-founder Dr. Bob early saw that "to save whole areas from turmoil, small
offices had to be set up, telephones installed, and a few full-time secretaries hired. ...If they weren't, the man
coming in the door couldn't get a break." (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 161) The early service
centers were plagued by a lack of money, space, help and an abundance of conflicting opinions, but still
they persevered.
     So when representatives from many of the 500 Intergroup/Central Offices across the U.S/ and Canada
together with trustees of A.A.'s General Service Board and directors and staff of A.A. World Services and
the Grapvine - gather from October 4-9, 2007 at the 21st Annual Central Office/Intergroup/A.A. World
Services Seminar at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Oklahoma City to share the spirit and substance of service,
they will be mindful that the effectiveness of their own operations owes much to the trials, tribulations,
and collective sharing of their perdecessors. As Jan D., from the historical first meeting - a group of seven
was meeting once a month, among other things to coordinate efforts regarding hospitalizations and
sponsorship. Dr. Bob was not only a supporter but an active participant, according to fellow Akron member
Dan K. "Doc used to play an important part in the Central Committee," Dan reported, and the going could get
rough: During the meeting sometime,he words would fly like you were in a barroom and he said
"Gentlemen, please. We're still members of Alcholics Anonymous. Let's carry the principles of A.A. into these
business meetings. You are servants of your group, here to take the ideas formulated by the committee. Let
one man talk at a time, and let us conduct this business meeting as a service to the Lord and a service to
our fellow members..." After that there were no more brawls when Dr. Bob was around. (Dr. Bob and the
Good Oldtimers, p.288-89)
     Columbus, Ohio, followed almost immediately with a service center, today called the Fellowship
Intergroup, which started up in 1943. In nearby Akron, the birthplace of A.A., an Intergroup office was
opened in April 1954. Its first newsletter, published that same year commemorated November 18th as
Gratitude Day. The cover, block-lettered by hand, signaled the dedication of the struggling little office
that, with minimal financial support, was willing to go to nay lengths to carry A.A.'s message of sobriety.
     Bill W. acknowledged in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (p. 23) that "A.A.'s first organized
service center sprang up in Chicago, where an A.A. named Sylvia utilized her $700 montly alimony checks
(a very large sum when Bill and Lois were living $55 a week) to rent an apartment in the suburb of Evanston,
also the locale of the area's first meeting in 1939. So busy was the phone that Sylvia's nonalcoholic
personal secfretary Grace Cultice rapidly evolved into an A.A. girl Friday.
     By 1941, following publication of Jack Alexander article about A.A. on the Saturday Evening Post, Sylvia's
place "became something of a Chicgo Grand Central," Bill W. later confirmed (ibid.), "and something
had to be done." So the A.A.s rented a one-room office in the Loop; there, Bill wrote, "Grace was installed
to direct the stream of applicants for Twelfth Step attention, hospitalization, or other help."
     New York's first local service center operated informaly for years out of a clubhouse on Manhattan's
West 24th Street. The first locale Central Committee was established in 1942, but the Intergroup wasn't
officially established until June 1946, when there were 22 groups in the metropolitan area. "Because of
ongoing conflicts at the club, Intergroup moved into a storeroom on West 75th Street in November,"
reported archivist Wally P., now of Tucson, Arizona, "and that's when order started to grow out of
chaos." In the beginning, only 50 percent of the groups subscribed to intergroup and helped defray its
expenses. But by 1951 every group in the district was fulfilling a group pledge to help maintain the office.
     Minutes of a meeting of delegates to the Intergroup Association of New York in January 1950 recorded
an anecdote told by Bill W. He said that "a woman cane into the program stating, "my name is Toodles
and down to my last $3 million." Toodles found sobriety but then died suddenly of diabetes and left
$10,000 to A.A." The Alcoholic Foundation (renamed General Service Board of A.A. in 1954) had earlier
passed a resolution that no money could be redeived from individuals or outside services (unlike today,
when an annual contribution up to $3000 may be made by an A.A. member, who also may leave a onetime
bequest in the same amount). However, since the money had been left to Intergroup, Bill felt that "it's
your money to do with as you see fit."
     The Los Angeles Central Office started in 1944. "In those days A.A. wasn't easy to find - and we kept it
that way," an oldtimer, sober since 1940, remembered later. "A carefully selected group of priests,
judges and policemen knew about A.A.; our phone number wasn't listed and could be gotten only from
information. That way we knew that any newcomer who found us had generally make enough of an effort
to guarnantee the sincerity of his desire for sobriety." And in Newark, where the Big Book had been put
together in the offices of Hank P., for a time Bill W.'s business partner and sponsee, Hank served as the
first full-time paid secretary of the New Jersey Intergroup office from 1944-49.
     In Charleston, West Virginia, the term "intergroup" was first used in 1953. The association evolved
directly from the state's first treatment center, founded in 1944. Named the Alcan Center, Inc. it was
fondly referred to by locals as "the jitter joint."
     By the time the first General Service Conference was held in April 1951, at least 16 intergroup/central
offices were serving local groups. Since they predated the formation of the General Service structure
and performed a different function, they were not a part of the A.A. structure (except in Chicago, where
the Area Service Office and Area Committee are essentially one). Sometimes over the years there was
overlapping of services, especially when both entities were performing similar services; but eventually,
thanks to shared experience and improved communication, in many places intergroups and General
Service have come to work hand-in-glove.
     Since intergroup/central offices are established and supported by local groups; they have no authority
of their own. Eash intergroup/central offices is unique, reflection the needs and wishes of its own community,
and is responsible to the groups it serves. Typically each participating group has an intergroup
representative. These reps meet periodically to elect a steering committee, or board of directors, responsible
for admisistering the office. They also keep their groups informed. A continuing flow of communication
is vital, because the groups are completely responsible for the financial support of the office that services
them, and local group members provide the volunteers to do the necessary Twelfth Step work.
     Unity is the glue that holds the intergroup/central offices and general services together, but it is
communication that jump starts mutual cooperation and harmony vital both in reaching suffering alcoholics
and in being attuned to the needs of those who are recovering in A.A. Many local intergroups produce
their own flyers and information pieces. Also, the General Service Office publishes Guidelines and other
service material that share the accumulated experience of intergroups and central offices in the United
States-Canada and worldwide. These define an intergroup as "an A.A. service office that involves
partnership among groups in a community-just as A.A. groups themselves are partnerships of individuals.
It is established to carry out functions which are best handled by a centralized office....It exists to aid the
groups in their common purpose of carrying the Alcoholics Anonymous message to the alcoholic who
still suffers."

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