Connections - 06.01.23

More than an Event: When Conference Meets Community

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If you joined us last month in Chicago for Possibility Unleashed: The 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference, you know that in order to unleash possibilities, we have to make space for intentional innovation, creative collaboration, and the strategic risk-taking that’s involved in trying new things. This year’s Building for Better Schools event—our first-ever non-traditional build competition at an ANCOR Annual Conference—embodied all of these characteristics.

Sponsored by Great American Insurance Group, this first-of-its-kind social hour supported two Chicago Public Schools by bringing together conference attendees, exhibitors, and students from local schools. The goal of this event was to increase our positive social impact and reduce our environmental impact on the local community.

“One of ANCOR’s goals is to positively impact the communities where we host events,” noted Sasha Sencer, ANCOR’s Director of Education & Intersectional Collaboration. “As a former community engagement coordinator, I understood that organizing large events can burden local [communities]. With five former and current educators on the ANCOR staff and knowing the needs of public school systems around the country, as well as the work Chicago Public Schools does to support students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I thought a partnership just might work!”

ANCOR connected with Chicago Public Schools and worked to identify areas of need and ways the ANCOR community could come alongside the schools. From there, the idea of school supply donations emerged. Ross Setlow, Senior Marketing Specialist at Great American Insurance Group, said that “Great American’s Specialty Human Services Program has supported initiatives for the Chicago Public Schools in the past, so when we saw the opportunity to sponsor the Building for Better Schools [event] at the ANCOR Annual Conference, we jumped right on it.”

In pursuit of this goal for the 2023 Annual Conference, many of our exhibitors chose to donate a much-needed school supply item in lieu of traditional conference swag. In the days leading up to the build competition, conference attendees visited exhibitor booths to collect as many of the school supplies as possible. Then, on the evening of Tuesday, April 25, teams worked together to “build” replicas of famous Chicago landmarks using the school supplies they had previously collected from exhibitors. The judges of this friendly competition were a group of amazing students from Northside Learning Center and Jaqueline B. Vaughn Occupational High School.

After 15 minutes of collaboration, concentration and engineering feats, the student judges went around each team’s build and judged their interpretation of a Chicago architectural landmark. The winning build? A replica of the Willis Tower made out of a sturdy foundation of washable markers, hand sanitizers and notebooks!

Participants building a skyscraper out of school supplies.

Sarah Davis, Senior Account Executive at Great American Insurance, noted that the event was “a win on all fronts—from the [exhibitors] supporting with school materials rather than traditional swag that might find its way to the trash; to the conference participants who were so creative with how they approached this task; to the students who were so diligent in evaluating and judging.”

In reflecting on the Building for Better Schools event, Conference Director Sasha Sencer summed up the event as a “fun, creative, and liberating team-building exercise [that was] an excellent vessel to increase member engagement with exhibitors and decrease our overall output of waste.” Sencer added, “Seeing people having so much joy stepping outside their comfort zones and the respect and trust they gave me by stepping up and being vulnerable meant a lot. Watching our guest [student] judges find joy meant a ton, and knowing we contributed approximately $15,000 to deserving schools meant the world.”

Alli Strong-Martin is the Communications Coordinator at ANCOR.