New members in 12-step recovery hear about “being of service” without being sure what that means. There are many ways of “serving” in the program, whether it is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Al-Anon or any other program with 12-step orientation.
Ways to Be of Service During Recovery
Meetings themselves require everyone involved to be of some type of service. Here are a few examples:
- Refreshments: Someone has to show up prior to the meeting to make the coffee that’s usually served. They may also put out cups, spoons, napkins, stirrers, creamers, etc. Some meetings choose to offer cookies or other snacks. Some will bake fresh cookies or other snacks; others stop on the way to the meeting to buy them. The meeting will reimburse for this expense.
- Set up: Each meeting needs tables and chairs. Some meetings are held in rooms where the setup is permanent. Others will need to have someone serve the group by doing this bit of service, setting up tables and chairs before the meeting.
- Greeters: Some meetings have greeters who shake hands or offer hugs to each member coming in for the meeting. They generally stand by the door to catch members as they come in.
- Secretary: Each group has a secretary elected to take charge of the meetings. The secretary arrives early each week to ensure the meeting begins as scheduled.
- Treasurer: This person will keep the donations (no dues or fees are collected); but 12-step groups support themselves by donations made by members. This is generally $1.00 or so, collected during the meeting. The treasurer collects money and pays the bills for the meeting, such as coffee, snacks, rent on the facility, etc.
- Phone Lists: Some meetings have a list of members with phone numbers, so newer members can call when they need extra support or to find sponsorship in the group. This person will keep phone numbers and information current.
- Clean Up: Usually several volunteers who take down tables and chairs, if needed; empty trash, clean coffee area, and pick up the room after the meeting.
Hospitals and Institutions
The Hospitals and Institutions (H+I) service is carried out by sober members who take meetings into facilities where the general public is not allowed. For instance, these facilities include jails, prisons and treatment centers that prohibit their clients from leaving for outside meetings.
Furthermore, the service structure is the same as all the service structures in 12-step programs. Thus, these members are volunteers with some time abstinent from their addiction. There are representatives from each meeting in a specific location, usually designated by County or District, depending on location.
While the main body of the Committee comes from the meetings, there are also a Board and other positions serving the group. Some of these are:
- Chair or Director: Usually serves as head of the Committee or group for one year.
- Co-Chair or Co-Director: Same time frame, and represents the Chair or Director when needed.
- Secretary: Serves to take minutes and distributes them at each meeting.
- Treasurer: Collects donations from Area meeting representatives (which are usually collected from within the individual meetings) and reports monthly to the groups.
These members travel from their area to represent not just a meeting, but their Area in a larger group, such as State or even larger. The groups begin at the level of local meetings and go all the way up to World Service structure, which is a larger version of the individual meetings.
There is no compensation for these service members, however. As such, some service members are given travel expenses if funds are available within the structure of their home group.
What Other Types of Service are there?
- Books and materials are not only written by members, but reviewed and approved by groups of members.
- Public information is disseminated by individuals who are trained to talk publicly about the program they represent.
- Conferences and conventions are held by groups, communities and other groups of members, usually annually, to provide gatherings for fellow members to travel to and attend.
- Events within fellowships are held, sometimes monthly or annually for purposes of making money or to allow social interaction with other members; sometimes serving both purposes.
- Trainings are often held for specific groups to become more familiar with new materials, to train newer members in how to work within a given service structure, etc.
How High Does It Go?
Each service structure within 12-step groups is representative of them all. Therefore, elected members serve in all capacities, up to World Service. The positions within each level of the service structure are similar: Chair, Co-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. These serve that level of each group.
Getting involved in service is a good way to understand what drives the 12-step programs. There are no paid employees outside the World Service Structure. Everyone else is a volunteer, motivated by their own history of recovery.
Who Can Participate?
Even someone with only a few days of recovery can help set up or clean up for a meeting. They can make coffee or answer a phone in their local group office. Some positions have requirements to meet for lengths of time abstinent. So, check into whichever positions you find interesting and begin to attend that meeting or service group to learn more.