After attending the Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP) Conference in Columbus, Ohio, I am going to say that the whole week and the experience(s) I went through were excellent. I started Communities Unlimited (CU) in June of 2021, so this was my first time attending RCAP.

As the Staff Writer, I have used the last year to learn and soak up everything I can about the company. I understood that as a regional partner of the National RCAP, CU serves as the Southern RCAP partner in providing environmental technical assistance and training throughout our seven-state region. However, being at my first conference and not knowing what to expect made me nervous. As I sat in the welcome ceremony on the first morning of the conference, I had a feeling that overcame me. My nervousness about being a newcomer immediately left me. I started to feel right at home.

I was no longer listening and watching my co-workers tell a story on a computer screen through a Zoom or Teams meeting; I was seeing them (and others) live and in person speak about their roles and what we do for our clients. Everything I had learned up to this point started making more sense in this realistic setting.

Most of my co-workers were at the conference to learn new traits to help in their role as Technical Assistance Providers (TAP), but my purpose for attending was to capture pictures and stories for CU. However, I felt like I absorbed a variety of information to assist our Communication Team and myself in telling better stories from the world of our TAPs. I also made new connections with TAPs that I have not had the opportunity to talk to regularly, and I strengthened the relationships I have made within the last year. I was grateful for the time to spend with them to assure them that my role as a Staff Writer is to assist them in spreading the news of the great things they are doing in our communities.

Aside from the overall big picture of the conference, I truly enjoyed the Breakout and World Café sessions. As I live-tweeted, I had the honor of listening to some of CU’s presenters do a fantastic job telling about our work. CU’s Entrepreneurship-Senior Projects Coordinator, Dale Rutherford, and Entrepreneurship-Senior Management Consultant Akira Morishita spoke to the TAPs about moving businesses into the Entrepreneurship fold, and CU’s Martha Claire Drysdale, Director of Community Sustainability and West Texas Coordinator, Mark Pearson led the Economic Development (CED) Practice in Action session. It was great to hear my co-workers speak. I also had the fantastic opportunity to listen to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development, Xochitl Torress Small, and Dr. Lanikque Howard, Director, Office of Community Services (OCS), speak about shared partnerships and collaboration.

On the conference’s final day, I witnessed two of my co-workers/friends receive their awards during the awards ceremony. Environmental Management Specialist, Olivia Barfield-RCAP Rookie of the Year and Environmental Services Area Director, Karen Conrad-The Robert Stewart Leadership Award (Hall of Famer, Award). I enjoyed seeing the surprised look on their faces as they accepted their awards. After the ceremony, when I told them congratulations, they both were so humble about their accomplishments; it only made it more transparent that we were all in the right place.

To top things off, my first RCAP National Conference was the conference where RCAP introduced its new CEO, Olga Morales-Pate. It pleased me to be there during this significant milestone for RCAP and hear her speak about her childhood experiences of hauling water to her childhood home for her and her family to have safe drinking water. Listening to the CEO of RCAP tell this story made it all come full circle.
Overall, my takeaway from the National RCAP Conference is just what I explained to my co-workers; I was in awe! First, because it was a new experience for me, and second, because I am thankful every day to work with outstanding people and to be able to tell the stories of what great things we all do.

I am glad that I was able to attend RCAPs National Conference 2022.