The 7th annual FL SAND Conference is now just a memory to those of us who attended. It was held once again at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando January 25-27.
Let me be the first to say that this year’s event certainly didn’t disappoint. It seems to be growing with each year that passes. The theme “Ridin’ the Wave of the Future,” encapsulated the conference emphasis of long-term sustainability for the FL SAND network of grassroots self-advocacy groups. Sustainability was addressed in the board of directors strategic planning session Friday before the conference and in general sessions Saturday morning. In these sessions, Christina St. Clair and Kelli Munn with Organizational Management Solutions, FL SAND’s training and technical assistance provider, addressed strategies for how the network could become financially and functionally independent in the coming years.
We had a wonderful keynote address given by Sarah Goldman, district aide to Representative Ben Diamond, titled “Advocacy Works.” During her presentation, Goldman gave concrete examples of advocacy issues she’s faced throughout her life and how she was able to not only overcome them, but even used one as a school project that had a great impact on others.
Margaret Hooper, public policy coordinator with the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, and FL SAND President Amanda Baker led a discussion on legislative hot topics and assisted the organization in narrowing down its legislative priorities to take before Florida lawmakers in their upcoming session and at Developmental Disabilities Day at the state capitol in March. Ultimately, the issues we decided to focus on involved increased access to transportation and an increase in provider rates. Both are important topics within our community and we hope to make a positive impact when we visit our legislators in Tallahassee March 20. As a group, we also discussed the importance of visiting our representatives in their home districts throughout the year when they or their staffs are better able to focus on our issues.
Saturday afternoon, FL SAND groups spent time in roundtable discussions about sustainability. Specific topics included how to expand group membership and pick-up the pace of advocacy at the local level. Other highlights of the weekend included a choice of dinner out at Buca Di Beppo or Miller’s Ale House where we got to socialize and meet new friends. The night was capped off with a dance hosted by self-advocate and DJ, Dan Booton.
Other highlights from the conference included
Our lunch panel, “Innovative Grassroots Advocacy,” featuring Kevin McDaniel, ADA director in Jacksonville, Natalie Alden with Disability Rights Florida, and our keynote speaker, Sarah Goldman.
Self-advocate led break-out sessions that included “How Not to Run a Board Meeting,” “Advocacy Rocks,” “Managing Individual Supports,” “Making Work Work for You,” and “New Group Basics.”
Two screenings of “Intelligent Lives," a documentary narrated by Chris Cooper and directed by award-winning filmmaker Dan Habib.
FL SAND group annual reports were shared Sunday morning, followed by the organization’s annual general meeting. Annual reports let us know what everyone was up to when it comes to local advocacy projects since our last conference. These reports also gave us a sneak peak of the things they’ll be working on in the coming year. New groups that have joined FL SAND since last year were introduced, including Clay County Change Makers and MAGICAL from Orlando.
Given the fantastic ideas and networking that took place at this year’s conference, it only stands to reason that with each coming year the annual conference will be increasingly valuable to self-advocates new and old. It’s poised to enhance our abilities as self-advocates on many levels. With hope, our efforts now will make a difference for years to come in the strides we make to become effective and successful advocates, not only in the state of Florida, but throughout the country.