VisionServe’s 30th Annual Executive Leadership Conference took place October 28 – 31, 2018, in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. 124 conference attendees took part in three days of executive training, networking and discussions with peers in the blindness and visual impairment field.
Conference activities included the welcome reception, great speakers, a Dine Around, and especially having flex time for networking and collaborative brainstorming sessions. Willa Adams, attending from Nu-Visions Center in Lewistown, PA remarked, “I liked the amount of time to meet with other attendees and get out of the building and look around. The lunches were relaxed and conducive to talking to new people.”
The conference’s two keynote speakers presented informative sessions on fundraising and generational codes. Lori L. Jacobwith, a fundraiser rated in the top 25 nationally, inspired all attendees with successful techniques from her own experience she used to develop better ways to reach out to donors. Anna Liotta of The Generational Institute, enlightened attendees with fresh ways to understand and work effectively with employees of all ages. “I especially enjoyed and learned from Anna Liotta’s generational presentation as this affects everyone from clients to the board members,” said Denny Moyer, President of Ensight Skills Center in CO. “Following the conference, I had a conference call which included many of the same people who were in Portland and by the comments and responses to the call I could actually identify (for the most part) the baby boomers and gen Xers. It was eye opening.”
Other well-received topics included crisis management, board management, Older Individuals who are Blind programs, impact investing, grants management and AFB’s new strategic plans.
The location of Portland did not disappoint, providing ample delicious Dine Around locations within walking distance enjoyed by over 100 attendees. “It’s always such a fun sight to watch folks meeting their Dine Around groups in the hotel lobby, introducing themselves, and becoming fast friends over the course of a meal together,” remarked Roxann Mayros, the outgoing President & CEO of VisionServe Alliance. “The next day we see lots of new friendships were formed just from spending this time together. We’ve thought about dropping this session because it’s a lot of work to put together, but it’s too popular. If we did, we’d never hear the end of it!”
Speaking of Roxann, after attending and planning upwards of 40 conferences, this was her last conference as the executive in charge of VisionServe Alliance. “Beginning in 1995, I have attended conferences as a member and as an employee of VisionServe Alliance. In both roles, I have learned from national experts, experienced local customs and cultures in the cities we visited, and most importantly, found life-long friends. Over the years, we’ve watched each other’s children grow, seen marriages come and go, provided support through sicknesses, and now, the blessing of grandchildren. This conference had many young strong leaders in attendance. So even though I was able to lift and affirm my long-time professional and personal friendships, I was most especially, encouraged and pleased to see this next generation of leaders actively participating and learning from one another.”
Cultivating and supporting this next generation of leaders is one of the main goals of the conference. First-time attending CEO’s are matched up with a “mentor,” another member CEO whose agency might share similar issues/goals. The pair touches base before, during and after the conference. Many members note how helpful that these relationships are to their success at their respective agencies.
Enjoying past successes and struggles was a sentiment shared by many other attendees, including outgoing board members Mark Ackermann and Steve Pouliot. “In my forty-year not-for-profit career, I have belonged to many professional associations, but I have never been part of an association like VisionServe,” noted Ackermann, outgoing Board Chair. “The professionalism, comradery, mentorship, richness of learning, are all second to none.”
Other soon-to-be-retired attendees in Portland included Pam Brandin(Vista Center in Palo Alto, CA),
Lou Tutt (AER in Alexandria, VA), Bob Scheffel (Metrolina Association for the Blind in Charlotte, NC) and Robert Kelly (Conklin Center for the Blind in Daytona Beach, FL). “I felt so nostalgic having it be my last one,” remarked Pam Brandin, who also served as Board Chair of VisionServe Alliance from 2005 – 2008. “It did make me feel proud to have been a part of our growth, looking at all the new leaders and knowing that the membership has expanded greatly in the last decade. It certainly was a lot of fun along with the hard work.”
The weather—which in previous years’ conferences has often presented challenges—included enough sun to give attendees the opportunity to explore the beautiful surroundings nearby including the Chinese Gardens, and the Oregon coastline and the Columbia River Gorge. The final Awards Night took place aboard the Portland Spirit boat, a picturesque setting where one could admire the downtown nightscapes as well as celebrate the award winners: Robert Kelly (Excellence in Leadership Award), Laura Park-Leach (Cathy Holden Excellence in Managerial Leadership Award), and Cathy Holden (Lifetime Achievement Award).
We thank everyone who joined us in Portland to network, learn and wish Roxann well in her retirement. Work hard, and we’ll look forward to seeing you at our next conference, our CEO Summit in Nashville, TN, May 5 – 8, 2019.