Part 2 of Before There Was DSAIA, there was AIA the Conference...

Mon, December 30, 2019 1:11 PM | Anonymous member

In the last installment, Part 1, I discussed the excitement felt by myself and many others when we left Kansas City in February 2007. In my attempt to share our history, here is a summary of the next Affiliates in Action (AIA) conference hosted by Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City (DSG) in 2008. [If you want to check out Stephanie Meredith’s perspective on the 2008 event, her guest blog is here.]

2008, Scottsdale, AZ 

First, many leaders from the 2007 AIA conference knew that the 2008 conference would be even more well-attended than the first meeting. The attendance was about 188 as compared to the 63 attendees the year before. 

Luckily, DSG leadership reached out to a group of past attendees, Down Syndrome (DS) group board members and staff, to ask them to join the conference committee. They needed the help. 

While still primarily peer-driven, the goal was to have keynote speakers with national prominence on topics that truly impacted our community and to have many breakout sessions about programs started by local DS groups that could be replicated anywhere. 

A couple of great entertainment components were added in the evenings, including a talent show and dine-around, which are still big hits at DSAIA conferences. Keep in mind, AIA was just a conference put on by one local group, DSGKC. It was their financial exposure with the hotel contract, food minimum, etc. 

Understanding this is crucial as I share about the dilemma from 2008. 

I remember the individual who would go on to become DSAIA’s first board president talking to the president of the DSG board, asking if something was on her mind. During the first night of what was shaping up as a tremendously successful conference, the DSG president seemed troubled. She explained her board would not allow DSG to sponsor another AIA conference because of the financial liability. Should the registration tank, her organization was on the hook for the room and food minimum. Potentially tens of thousands of dollars. 

So the future DSAIA board president met with the DSG president privately and shared some notes he had made on a napkin. He had thought about how to remove the entire financial burden from DSG and started to develop a plan to share that liability among all the groups in attendance.  

After the DSG president took those thoughts to the rest of her board, a powerpoint was created and all the groups were asked to “park” $2,000, or what they could afford, in an independent account. The money still belonged to their group and could only be accessed should the contract minimums not be met. Thanks to vision, passion and some creativity on a napkin, the future of AIA was saved.

However, that is the backstory. The bigger story is how quality programs started to expand to more groups.  How our movement’s most important issues (political advocacy, awareness, medical research) were being discussed and advances were being made by each local organization who sent their leadership to this conference. AIA was very important to the Down syndrome movement, and every attendee in Scottsdale knew it. 

Part 3 focusing on the 2009 AIA conference held in Washington, DC will be tomorrow's post. Stay tuned!

I want to tell you what WONDERFUL time I had at the conference. I learned so much and came away with lots of ideas for our organization. -Barb Waddle, The Upside of Downs of Northeast Ohio


Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action started as a conference bringing together outstanding leadership from Down syndrome organizations around the country. Learn More

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