12th Annual Mentoring Conference Planning

Friends for Youth's Mentoring Institute is busy with final planning details for the 12th Annual Mentoring Conference, Share What You Know: Collaboration and Networking in Youth Mentoring. On Thursday, January 27, and Friday, January 28, 2011, youth mentoring professionals from around the country and the world gather together in Redwood Shores at the Oracle Conference Center to hear experts present their work in Best Practices, youth development, technology innovations, and with special populations.

How does the conference come to be what it is? I thought it might be interesting to give a behind-the-scenes tour of what goes into planning for the largest Friends for Youth annual event.

Starting immediately after the last conference, all staff gather together to debrief about what worked, what didn't, what would be good to try next year. This is an invaluable process and helps us deliver a smooth-running event that gets better each time. Everything from registration check-in to food to workshop topics is discussed and assessed for future conferences. Then, as the Program Director and coordinator of the conference, I spend a few months thinking about a theme, topics, keynote speakers. Starting in early summer, I begin to secure our sites. Oracle has been a generous Presenting Sponsor for the past six years, allowing us to use one day at their beautiful Oracle Conference Center. While we very much appreciate that we could never afford their incredible space, support, and catering without sponsorship, it does present a dilemma: where should we hold the first day of pre-conference courses? And where will attendees from out of town sleep? And why isn't there anything that fits these two needs within a mile of Oracle?

Thus, we often hold Thursday's sessions at another location that meets many criteria: close to Oracle, enough meeting room and guest sleeping room space, professional ambiance, and, most importantly, the lowest prices available for non-profit attendees! This process often takes several months and even several years to develop the best relationships with companies who can best meet our needs.

During this time, I'm working out the theme and contracting with our team of incredible designers from rise-and-shine studios in San Francisco. Once they deliver our graphics, I tackle all the other details: schedule, keynote and workshop presenters, topics, and descriptions. Save the Date announcements start during the summer, as many attendees have to plan their schedules and budgets far in advance of the actual conference. Herding presenters is sometimes a challenging process: with their own busy lives and responsibilities, it can take longer than anticipated to get all of the final details in place. I often go through a list of five or six possible keynote speakers before finding the one who is a good fit and can make the date!

Once we're at this point, D'Arcy, our web mistress extraordinaire, takes my plans for online information and registration and converts them into easy-to-use and accessible interfaces on our web site. Once we've tested and retested (and retested) to make sure there are no glitches in the process, I announce that registration is open and attendees start signing up! This does not mean, however, that my job is done: there's still more marketing, coordination, and decision-making that has to happen before the beginning of January. Not to mention designing and printing programs, ordering give-aways for attendees, making nametags, and organizing all the materials to go on site on the days of the conference.

Friends for Youth has an incredible staff who are always willing to pitch in and help with various tasks and provide an enormous amount of helpful feedback both before, during, and after the conference. Putting on the conference is truly a village effort!

I hope you'll consider joining us for two days in January to experience the results of nearly a year's worth of planning, developing, and implementing our vision of the second best way to create quality mentoring relationships for youth who need them most - by assisting more programs to develop safe and effective programs! See you at the conference!


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