The Member-At-Large and You

Every CoCoSAR team member has the opportunity to sit at the table at every Command Staff meeting.

This is, of course, not true in the literal sense. But it is true in the sense that every member has a chance to be heard through the voice of a teammate acting as the Member-at-Large (MAL).

While the Command Staff maintains a relatively small core of members, the MAL is a rotating position that opens up every six months. During his/her tenure, the MAL has two primary responsibilities:

  1. To complete one or more projects of his/her choice
  2. To act as ombudsman for the team.

The projects can be anything near and dear to the individual MAL’s interests. The first MAL, Alyssa Skye, put the nonprofit “house” that is SAR in order, working on bylaws, tax regulations, etc.  Along the way, the MALs who followed her have chosen tasks as varied as their personalities, from creating better radio communication platforms, to setting up a statistical database, to creating a step-by-step binder delineating the team’s application process. Former MALs have included Michael Cummings, Larry Fong, John Banuelos, and Diane Blue.

Caroline Thomas-Jacobs, the newest MAL, has her project lined up, but she also sees the role of ombudsman as a major responsibility and intends to bring it to the forefront while she fills the position. As ombudsman, the MAL makes himself/herself available to the rest of the team to act as a liaison with the Command Staff, bringing member concerns, suggestions—and yes, complaints—to those individuals who can best address the issues.

A native of New Jersey, now living in El Cerrito, Caroline first studied to be an educator at NYU, but when she moved to the Bay Area, she instead landed a job with Apple. She spent eight years expanding Apple’s retail division and traveling frequently before deciding to stay home with her sons. She joined the SAR team in the fall of 2010, but because she and her wife, Renee, have two young boys to raise and a catering business to run, Caroline limited her SAR activity to completing her Type II status and attending searches for the first year.

When the next Academy rolled around, she jumped in and helped with curriculum and instruction, and this is where her interest lies for her MAL project. She will, as she says, “work to ensure consistent and accurate content, develop a uniform and professional template for all presentations, and create a Fall Academy Handbook, which will reinforce key academy skills and provide supplemental resources for Academy students.” In other words, she’s going to give some needed structure to future academies in the areas of instruction and format. 

Caroline also relishes the role of the ombudsman and wants to be sure all team members know it exists and will use the opportunity the ombudsman provides to speak up. While Merriam-Webster defines ombudsman as “one that investigates, reports on, and helps settle complaints,” Caroline’s version of ombudsman goes deeper.       

“My goal is to increase the voice of the team on the Command Staff, which requires that all team members make their voices heard,” she says. “All team members are encouraged to contact me whenever they have something to say.”

Caroline envisions her ombudsman role as being a facilitator.  She will take members’ suggestions, concerns, and questions to the appropriate parties—whether it’s to the Command Staff, a lieutenant, or a resource sergeant—and she will ensure each team member is provided with a response. It may not be the specific resolution the member wants, but members will know their feedback was heard.

Being a team player at heart, Caroline believes she has a knack for identifying and amplifying the strengths of others. She very much wants to bring those skills to the table as the MAL, to be accessible and receptive, and to help other team members have a chance to express their views without fear or embarrassment.

Caroline wants all CoCoSAR members to know she has an open-door policy, which means phone calls or emails are always welcome. Her contact information is listed in the team roster. 

Also, a feedback/comment form has been added to the CoCoSAR website (under the “Members” menu), which will enable every team member to submit ideas, comments, or concerns—anonymously or with attribution—to Caroline as ombudsman. Where appropriate, she will then present the feedback from the website to the Command Staff each month. She will also make herself available before and after every full-team training for any teammate who wishes to share some thoughts.

Every team member has a right to be heard, Caroline says, so she has made it her goal to create a comfortable channel through which that may happen.