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History of this group

The Story of a Successful Start for a New Chapter of AHA, by Suzanna Garland

Humanists and Freethinkers of Cape Fear is a viable chapter of the American Humanist Association (AHA) based in Wilmington, North Carolina. We have outgrown our space twice, have regular attendance at meetings and events of over 40 people, have status as a non-profit, and have a checking account, bylaws, and a functioning Board of directors. This is how we did it.

In 2005, as a newcomer to this historic college town, I was interested in finding friends who were secular non-theists who would enjoy socializing and having discussions of a liberal, philosophical nature. Having been active as an Officer in an Atlanta group, I was already aware of the service.

There was a group called Wilmington Atheists, but it was inactive. In April 2005, I volunteered to become the ?Organizer? of this group and planned my first ?Meet up? at a casual cafe. No one came! But I put up some flyers and met some of the staff at the cafe, who were young, hip and open minded. They encouraged me to try again, so I did. The second attempt yielded one person, Clem Bribitzer, who has turned out to be a very able ?Assistant Organizer? and an active member to this day. We advertised through the Meet up website and with a few flyers at bookstores and coffee shops. We changed the name of the group to the more inclusive ?The Cape Fear Freethinkers? ? but we did not realize that we could change the URL on the Meet up site, so still had the word ?atheist? in the web address. Many months later I finally found out we could change that, just by asking! We began meeting regularly, either in coffee shops on Sundays, or in casual restaurants on weeknights, once a month. We attracted a wide range of people, students, young families, retired folks, singles and married ? a great group of people! For the first year we averaged about 8-12 attendees, and had no formal structure at all, but communicated easily through the website.

The first major step toward growth, in May, 2006, was a regular meeting place where we had the privacy to talk and hold an actual meeting. That was achieved in cooperation with the local gay and lesbian association known as "Out Wilmington." They had a leased space for their group, and welcomed us with open arms and a free meeting space! We passed the hat and gave them contributions. We met regularly, once a month, on Sundays at 11am.

Over the next several months we had some discussion programs, several social events such as a family picnic and a Winter Solstice dinner, and a Darwin Day event on the campus of the local university. We now had from 10 to 25 people coming regularly to events, and another 20 on the e-mailing list, all of whom were members of our Meetup group. People were very grateful to find likeminded individuals, and relieved not to feel so alone anymore! We grew by word of mouth and the website. We joined the state-sponsored "Adopt-A-Highway" program. There is a sign reading ?Cape Fear Freethinkers? on a stretch of busy road. And we clean it regularly! We also circulated a petition concerning specious classes in the public high schools on ?The Bible? which turned out to be taught by Christian ministers who were not even employed (or certified) by the school system. The ACLU also was aware and involved, and now the classes are no more, at least in this North Carolina county!

We talked about organizing as a nonprofit. Several members did research about affiliating with national groups, and it became clear that the American Humanist Association was a good possibility, but we did not make a firm decision. The group investigated starting our own website and leaving the site, again mainly because we wanted to get the word ?Atheist? out of our URL! We knew we had to get the 501 c (3) tax status to encourage donations and membership dues, establish a bank account, and so forth.

At the beginning of 2007, two good things happened. Roy Steckhart, Executive Director of AHA, invited Clem, an AHA supporter, to meet with him. Roy told Clem that we could come in under the auspices of the AHA if we formed either a Membership Chapter or a Charter Chapter. Roy made us aware of the advantages of coming under the AHA umbrella. Coincidentally, a few weeks later we were contacted by Bobby Jenkins who wanted very badly to start a Humanist chapter. He had not been aware of our group, and had started a website, but then found us via Meetup. We invited him to join us, as we had the same goals, which he did.

Shortly thereafter, we established a bylaws committee. Our bylaws are based on some those from other Humanist chapters which are available on their websites.

We solicited seven of our most active members to form the first slate of officers to serve on the Board of Directors for the remainder of 2007. In April, 2007, we voted at our general meeting to affiliate with the American Humanist Association as a Charter Chapter. We also approved the Bylaws. In May we approved the slate of interim officers for the remainder of 2007. In July we obtained an "EIN" (an IRS document) and opened a checking account.

After much discussion of website alternatives, we finally found out that we could now change our Meet up URL to, so decided to stick with this national, very interactive and inexpensive, web service.

Then another serendipitous event occurred! We found out that Michael Werner, past President of AHA, and his wife Susanne had just relocated to Wilmington. Mike has become our mentor and was the speaker at our first official meeting!

In September, 2007, we found a new and larger meeting space to rent. We have been able to establish membership dues and received some generous gifts, so now have a budget! We now had about 60 people on the Meetup site; we put notices of our meeting in the community calendars and on the public radio station; and we asked the AHA to mail a letter to members of the AHA who live within 100 miles of Wilmington. This was our first official ?Kick Off? meeting as a chapter of AHA ? and people poured through the door, some driving for up to two hours to attend this event!

Our October meeting featured a speaker from the local campus of the University of North Carolina. The meeting room was jam packed, but we have already contracted for new, larger meeting space for the November and beyond meetings. Our new space will allow possible room for members' children to gather during our meetings. Parenting a secular family in a religious society is always a concern. And soon we may start a book club and discussion group. We have 90 members signed up on Meetup, but only half of these are active, but then again, we?ve only been ?official and public? for two months!

The primary factors for establishing a vibrant group have been the service, and the support of the AHA. However, none of this could have occurred without a diverse core group of committed individuals who have helped to get this off the ground.

We look forward to a great 2008 and becoming a voice for secular, rational people in this community. Please, check us out at and plan to visit with us in person if you are in the area.

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Site Protocol August 14, 2015 10:35 AM anonymous
What is a Humanist? March 21, 2008 10:51 AM anonymous
History of this group November 14, 2007 8:20 PM anonymous
Membership Application August 14, 2015 10:28 AM anonymous
About Humanists and Freethinkers of Cape Fear August 14, 2015 10:24 AM anonymous

Wilmington, NC

Founded Jan 17, 2003


HFCF, Amber Gayle Taggert, Anne Rose, Jane Nelson, Jean Dunne, Page Rutledge, Phillip Drum, Susanne Werner

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