On behalf of the Committee, I am pleased to provide an overview of the Society’s activities over the past 18 months.
It has been a tradition of our Society to hold the annual general meeting of members in April and for the Committee to report on the Society’s activities for the 12-month period ending on 31 December of the previous year. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mandated compliance with the prevailing social distancing measures, we were compelled to postpone indefinitely the 2020 AGM that had been convened for Thursday 16 April. For statutory purposes, at this general meeting, members will receive, and will deliberate on, the Society’s financial reports for the year ending 31 December 2019. However, as we are already in the final quarter of 2020, this report to members will provide an overview of the Society’s activities up to the present time.
In 2019, the Society achieved significant success across most of its established activities and continued to plan new initiatives in line with the ongoing strategy to broaden the age profile of the membership. Several very successful and well-attended social functions were organised throughout the year by the Diavoletti subcommittee, including some themed family events such as the celebration of “grandparents’ day” at Weston Park. Unfortunately, the COVID restrictions have curtailed social functions since the beginning of 2020. As anticipated at last year’s general meeting, we conducted a survey to obtain feedback from members on potential improvement to existing services and on the development of new services.
The results were very informative and will be most valuable to the planning and management of the Society’s affairs. They were a major input to a strategic planning workshop, which was organised by the Committee to start the development of a three-year operational plan. Our strategic plan for the period 2021-2023 is in the final stages of development and will be ready in time for presentation to members at the Society’s next Annual General Meeting in April 2021. To ensure members are involved in the process, tonight we are releasing a summary of the broad planning framework we have developed and will be inviting members to provide feedback. In 2019, enrolments in our language courses increased to 208 (4% higher than in the previous year). Because of the pandemic, we had to transfer our grammar courses online, but enrolments proved to be quite resilient. Our total enrolments of 212 for this year reflect a reasonable level of success and encourage us to continue providing online lessons as an alternative to our standard language courses once they are able to resume. We have been reviewing our conversation groups particularly with regard to greater integration with language courses. The results of the survey of members clearly indicate a desire for opportunities to practice the language as an integral part of our language courses. However, there is also a continuing demand for our traditional conversation groups, which will resume a soon as restrictions permit. When they do resume, consistent with feedback from members, we hope to be able to expand the opportunities for structured conversation on broad themes such as travel, culture and other popular subjects that participants will be invited to propose.
After much deep consideration, the Society is intending to assist the teaching of Italian in schools. This initiative seeks to fill the gap created by the demise of Italian community groups previously performing that function. We have submitted an application for a grant from the Italian Government in support of the placement of Italian language assistants to work alongside teachers in selected public and catholic schools. How much we can do will depend on the success of the application and the level of eventual funds available to us. The Dante Alighieri Society’s central office is supporting the initiative and has kindly agreed to help us with the training of the language assistants. We have begun preliminary discussions with teaching authorities with the aim of starting the program at the beginning of 2021. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions we have had to pause our regular Thursday evening cultural presentations. However, to support members in their pursuit of substitute cultural experiences, our office has been providing regular notices via email, website and Facebook page of cultural events available online. Performances of the Dante Alighieri Musica Viva Choir have also fallen victim to the COVID-19 restrictions. Indeed, the restrictions have even prevented the choir’s regular practice sessions. The choir members are keen to resume singing and performing at community events and are ready to go as soon as conditions permit. We are indebted to them all and look forward to a resumption of performances. The Society is a major supporter of the Italian Cultural Centre in Forrest. We continue to work closely with the managers of the centre with the aim of making it our permanent home as soon as the necessary restructuring to accommodate our needs is completed. Our treasurer, Tony Hanrahan, will present a report on the Society’s financial performance in 2019, including an update on the current financial situation. I take this opportunity to thank him for his great work. I also gratefully acknowledge the dedication and commitment of all the other members of the management Committee. All but three, are proposing to continue serving on the Committee and I warmly thank them. While Luigi Catizone, Catherine Pellegrino and Pamela Perussich will be stepping down from their positions, they have offered to continue performing their current non-committee functions. I sincerely thank them both. The Society is deeply grateful for the many volunteers who generously give their time and effort to help the success of many of our activities. These include:
• the volunteer conversation group leaders;
• the editors of the Dante Review;
• the choir’s committee, managers, conductors and musicians;
• the members who regularly respond to our calls for volunteers to help at community events; and
• all those who assist behind the scenes with the operation of technical equipment and other tasks.
I gratefully acknowledge the dedication and support provided by our office staff and by the teachers of our language courses. In closing, I thank all members for their loyal support of the ideals and vision of the Dante Alighieri Society.
29 October 2020
Franco Papandrea, President