Opening the Gateway for Future Leaders, by Sara Conrad

In the "gateway city," gateways were opened for many ACB affiliate members as Midwestern leaders hosted and attended a hugely successful conference focusing on the various aspects of leadership development and performance Aug. 19-21 in St. Louis, Mo. Ray Campbell, president of the Illinois Council of the Blind, said, "As a current or established ACB leader, I felt like I heard several good ideas and learned a few things about myself and what I can do better. I also got a renewed shot of enthusiasm for projects that I'm either undertaking or hope to undertake in Illinois and across ACB."

The conference began with an ice-breaker session, hosted by Michael Byington. Participants were encouraged to choose a device that enhances their lives as blind individuals. Byington's interactive time of "Who Is Your Assistive Technology Device?" included an interview of each member as if he or she were the voice of the device. We heard from guide dogs about their picky owners, glasses crying out from being sat on, and white canes fearlessly leading their companions. The time was not only a lighthearted start to the conference, but it was also educational in providing ideas for the often awkward beginnings of affiliate calls, meetings, and events.

Saturday's events were the meat of what leaders really need to know for effective affiliates. We heard from Ron Milliman about fundraising and media releases; he walked through the steps required for fundraising and charitable donations. In addition, leaders also learned how to write informational and entertaining media releases. We also heard from Chris Gray on treasurers, boards, and affiliates. Gray's presentations encouraged presidents in their work with treasurers, knowing that these positions are crucial to effective fund-raising, spending, and an affiliate as a whole. Campbell encouraged leaders to advocate to their legislators about important issues pertaining to blindness. He highlighted the successful pursuits ACB has had at Capitol Hill, and reminded us that we all have opportunities to contact our legislators, whether in D.C. or in local offices.

Brenda and Dan Dillon shared information and ideas about effective business meetings. Ideas were given for incentives such as dinner or fun activities at meetings, which can make them more inviting. Brenda also discussed mentoring and membership retention, with thoughts for recruiting members. Suggestions included movie tickets, free meals, and networking opportunities to draw others into affiliates.

Saturday wrapped up with a banquet, where Chris Gray spoke of the history of the Midwest ACB affiliates. This educational and inspirational story helped to encourage the future leaders and new generations of the organization, reminding all of the incredible leadership that has gone before us.

Sunday's session wrapped up with information about the national convention and project presentations. Many questions were answered for those who have never attended on a national level. In addition, projects were given to small groups Saturday, and we heard from each spokesperson at the end of the conference. The groups chose topics, mainly focusing on fundraising and membership. Groups were challenged to write a plan to raise $3,000 in a year or to plan a year's worth of affiliate meetings. Some fundraising ideas include a state-wide trivia competition, service auction, and chili cook-off. Meetings scheduled were planned based on seasons, meals, and activities that corresponded to the timing given.

The conference's success belongs both to its excited participants from Midwestern states and the planners of the event. "I'm glad the effects of the planning committee, consisting of DeAnna Noriega (MCB), Donna Seliger, and Stephanie Hunolt (both members of ICUB), were appreciated by the 51 registered attendees," says Jim Jirak, president of ACB of Nebraska. "The success of the conference proves that when affiliates work together, there is no limit to the success that can be achieved."

These gateways opened not only for seasoned leaders of ACB, but also for new members. Amy Morrison, who joined the Missouri Council this past January, expressed how wonderful the conference was for her. "I thought that it had very practical information," she said. "It's something I would do again. I felt like there were a lot of things to take away."

Positive momentum continues to ignite in the Midwest as leaders open even more gates back in their home states. We hope the excitement, enthusiasm, and success may be shared in other regions. You can find audio recordings of the conference sessions at www.missouricounciloftheblind.org/events/live/. When people come together, there's no telling how many doors may be opened for the growth of our organization.