2009, Washington, DC. (OK---Alexandria, VA)
Immediately after Scottsdale, DSG and the conference planning committee got to work on the 2009 conference. We strategically combined AIA with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) Buddy Walk® on Washington, and that generated better attendance for both events. AIA attendance was slightly over 200.
NDSS, NDSC, LuMind (then DSRTF) and Global Down Syndrome Foundation all attended, exhibited, and presented in Washington, DC. Not only was there great representation by the national organizations, we saw more local board leadership after positive feedback from their 2007 and 2008 attendence.
There were more breakouts and more plenary sessions, and the content continued to improve. 2009 is when many of us met and became familiar with U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rogers. She spoke while her son Cole happily played on the floor of the ballroom.
NDSC Executive Director David Tolleson gave one of the most moving speeches our movement has ever witnessed. However, most people in the room, including me, quickly forgot about it because of what happened next. We had drama with a capital D!
Jon Colman, NDSS president, followed David and laid out NDSS’s revised plan for licensing contracts with local groups for using the Buddy Walk® brand and program. It was a significant change from the less formal structure most DSAs were used to. In short, groups paid 7% of their walk gross to NDSS for brand usage. For smaller walks, this worked in their favor financially. For larger walks, it was a huge increase from their former contribution to NDSS following their walks. One of the most troubling components was this change took place in 2009, and they got the news just months before “walk” season, and local groups’ 2009 budgets were already in place.
Just looking around at everyone’s faces, there was only one topic for the rest of the conference. The 2009 conference, no matter how relevant and successful to that point, would only be remembered by the Buddy Walk® bomb.
There was no shortage of opinions, conversations, ire, and confusion for the rest of the conference. NDSS did present more details in a break-out session after the announcement, but...emotions were running very high, and civility was not always on display.
I hope many DSA leaders left the 2009 AIA conference with positive take-aways and great program ideas to improve services for their members. Many of us left with a headache and a sick feeling our community was in store for more divisiveness.
It was the Monday after the conference when the DSG board contacted other local leaders to express its concern about the time, effort, and energy that hosting the AIA conference took away from serving their members and families in Greater Kansas City. There would commit financially to hosting a 2010 conference, but there was a lot of uncertainty after that. The discussion began about AIA becoming an independent trade association, not just an annual conference...or what to do to make sure the conference continued...but that is for the next installment in this series.