Our Conference happens once a year. But you may not realize that we work year round on the strategy, programming, speaker procurement, venues, logistics and everything else, and our planning team members have other projects and events that run concurrent with Conference work. Sometimes it’s hard not to look at the planning documents from the previous year and simply change “2011” to “2012,” or “New Orleans” to “Chicago.” As tempting as it might be to do so, it’s not good enough for our attendees or our Conference.
As the leader in service sector innovation, we strive to accelerate progress by convening and connecting the brightest and most cutting-edge civic entrepreneurs for change. Our Conference always has been and always will be a don’t-miss experience for social entrepreneurs to exchange ideas about what’s working, and to generate new ideas to create a brighter path for the future.
With the launch of Conference registration, we’ve revealed our new theme, “Turning Point,” which we think perfectly embodies our approach in 2012. It’s a decisive year for the service sector and the world; an election year when economic instability is putting even more pressure on government, business and nonprofits; and a year that will determine the future of national service. It’s time to teach people how they can harness their power to create enduring change. It’s time for “turning points” in advocacy, policy and service.
My personal turning point was a long time in the making. I am the oldest of six children born to a preacher’s family in a small southern Louisiana town. With half a dozen of us, my siblings and I made an instant choir and a traveling art show. My younger brother David brought home strays – pets, people, anyone who needed a little extra care. We didn’t call this “volunteering,” and “service” was where we went every Sunday with Daddy standing at the front of the congregation. These activities didn’t have a name – it was simply the way we lived.
Until I became a single mother my senior year in college, I had big plans to become a lawyer or a broadcast journalist. But bringing a sweet, tiny, precious little girl into the world made me re-evaluate my life and the way I wanted to raise my Valerie. I didn’t want to depend on my parents or the system for support. I vowed to make my own way and to raise my girl with the same character-building activities with which I was raised.
I became an AmeriCorps working for the Saint Mary Community Action Agency to raise funds for a community housing project. The first step was a mapping activity to understand the current state of housing in the rural, 10-parish community that Saint Mary’s served. My turning point came on the day that I visited an old sugar cane plantation that had turned into a share cropping community and later housing for poor families. On this beautiful old farm lived a lively group of hard-working, welcoming, weathered individuals. But their living conditions were horrible with semi-permanent structures and barely any protection from wind and rain. Upon seeing that level of poverty in my own little community, I knew that my job as an AmeriCorps was no longer a transition for me, that I had to make a difference for me, for my daughter, for my little hometown and for my world.
It’s 17 years later and I am proud to work on the world’s largest Conference on volunteering and service. I volunteer at my children’s schools and my church, I serve on the board of directors for an organization that makes a direct impact on my community, I teach and mentor, and I am constantly inspired and re-energized to do more and better work by the amazing people around me.
That’s the story of my turning point. What’s yours?