The SLN’s sixth national conference, held June 24-25 in Hartford, Connecticut was a huge success! We welcomed 125 attendees from 31 states, as well as Australia and Taiwan. Attendees spent the weekend learning from national leaders in the sibling movement and making connections to last a lifetime.
The conference kicked off on Saturday with breakfast and an introduction led by Ed O’Neill, the SLN Outgoing Board Chair, and Katie Arnold, SLN’s Executive Director. To wrap up the conference introduction, siblings chatted amongst themselves in groups, sharing favorite memories of growing up with their brothers and sisters. Katie was then joined by Eric McVay, the Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) Representative on the SLN Board, to talk about how SLN members can best support self-advocacy efforts.
Following the introduction, attendees had the opportunity to choose from four different power-packed breakout sessions on a wide range of topics including future planning, current sibling-related research, state chapter development, and cops, safety, and the dignity of risk.
After the first round of breakout sessions, attendees came back together to enjoy lunch and a screening of Kelly’s Hollywood, a documentary from filmmaker, actor, and producer Brian Donovan. Once attendees had viewed the film, Brian delivered a powerful keynote speech about his experiences as a sibling, the process of creating his documentary, and his love for his sister.
Attendees then moved on to the second round of breakout sessions, which were focused on topics including the SLN’s new Diversity and Social Justice Committee, 2017 disability policy, supported decision-making, and family dynamics.
The first day of the conference concluded with a joyous celebration of the 10th anniversary of the SLN, complete with champagne, delicious cake, and hor’s d’oeuvres. Attendees had the opportunity to bid on fantastic items such as Vera Bradley items and Lego sets in a silent auction to support the SLN organized by Mary Hayden, the founder of Connecticut’s SLN chapter. Don Meyer, the Director of the Sibling Support Project, gave a talk reflecting on the history of the sibling movement and made a celebratory toast. Tamar Heller, one of SLN’s Members-At-Large, then led a toast honoring Katie for her hard work as Executive Director. The SLN Board wrapped up the festivities by leading a chorus of “Happy Birthday” to mark the 10-year milestone.
Day Two of the conference started strong with breakfast followed by the option for attendees to join in several Table Talks or go to a Micro-Learning session. For the Table Talks, each table had an attendee leading a conversation about a particular topic in which other attendees could engage. After one 20-minute period, attendees switched to join a second round of Table Talks. Many others in attendance chose to go to the interactive Micro-Learning session, “Educational Pop Rocks: Using Micro Power Bursts to Maximize Learning,” led by Carol Blessing, the Project Director of SiblingResources and a faculty member Cornell University. Participants learned about the power of micro-learning and shared their own thoughts and ideas about the learning tool.
Everyone then joined together again for a wonderful, engaging keynote from the Marvelous Martin Sisters: Melanie, a self-advocate, artist, and YAI member, and Kimberley, a sibling and journalist. Together, the sisters recounted their experiences growing up and reflected on their sibling bond. Their presentation was empowering, honest, and truly relatable for many in attendance.
Next, attendees had the chance to meet with other attendees from their home states to discuss state chapters. Attendees from states that do not currently have chapters had the chance to connect around forming new chapters. After these meetings, Sara Hansen, Vice Chair of the SLN Board, led attendees in a powerful open mic session to conclude the conference.
The SLN is truly grateful to everyone for making the conference such a success! We would also like to extend another thank you to our 19 incredible conference sponsors: Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities (CTCDD), UCONN University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, The Arc, Community Drive, Inc., Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), Institute on Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, Anonymous, Chapters Ahead and Nisonger Center, Council on Quality and Leadership, National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities (NLCDD), SibsNY/AHRC NYC Sibling Committee, Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters (SIBS), Barbara Sapharas, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University,NCR Roofing & Maintenance Inc., and Shea Tanis.
We look forward to many more successful conferences in the years to come!