Thirteen years ago, during a renovation of our nearly 100-year-old home, my husband, a long-time general contractor, called me to the basement to show me something he’d uncovered during demolition. He pointed to a length of wood – a joist – that was a major structure holding up our house. It was half eaten by termites, only the paper-thin rings of the tree left.
Suddenly feeling the weight of the two-story building above me, I gasped.
“It’s not a big deal,” my husband said. “We’ll just sister it.”
“Sister it? What do you mean?” I was totally intrigued. How did this feminine language exist in a traditionally masculine industry?
My husband explained that in construction, when one structural piece becomes damaged or isn’t able to hold up the load it’s meant for, you can “sister” it by attaching another piece to the first, and voila! The new “sistered joist” is stronger than either piece would be alone.
I fell in love with the term and the images it evoked – that our house could be reinforced from within without tearing the whole thing down. That this bracing could happen with minimal effort, and could help our home provide shelter for another 100 years.
The memory of that joist came flooding back as I worked on developing a theme for Nurture’s strategic planning retreat in January, triggered by a video in my Facebook feed. Glennon Doyle’s gorgeous piece, The Best Part of Life, focuses on sistering to get through the tough parts of life. Remembering my first experience with sistering, I was enthralled. I shot the video to Elizabeth Cleveland, who was guiding our strategic planning process. She loved it too. And just like that, we had our theme.
During Nurture’s Strategic Planning Retreat that month, Elizabeth introduced the “sistering” concept, then guided board and team members to “sister” each other by pairing off and being present for one another as we shared something we were struggling with. For the next three weeks, we continued to “sister” our retreat companions by checking in occasionally to see how they were doing. Simple yet powerful acts of kindness and support that turned the word “sister” into a verb.
Even with all the dedicated and talented people moving Nurture’s mission forward, sometimes it feels like we’re carrying an enormous load. From my experience working on other nonprofit boards, I know it’s not unusual to feel like you’re attempting the impossible with not enough hands and too few resources.
As stated so beautifully in the video: “I think the hard is purposeful . . . so that we’ll need our sisters.” People and organizations have inherent strengths and weaknesses. It is in learning how to work with and through them together that we grow, that we become more than we are alone.
So beginning this year (our fiscal year starts March 1), Nurture is incorporating the “sistering” concept into everything we do.
Looking inward, our team members will sister each other and find ways to strengthen parts of the organization that could benefit from added support. Looking outward, we’ll seek opportunities to “sister” with other organizations, so that together we create a solid, effective, and resilient network of support for all of RVA’s expecting and new families, no matter what their background or circumstances.
We’ve got lots of exciting projects in the works for 2016-17 (more to come in future blog posts).
Together we will build something truly extraordinary for RVA’s families.
Leslie Lytle is the Executive Director of Nurture