Lessons Learned from Visiting Affiliate Conferences

By Bethany Cox, NCFR Member Relations Manager


Bethany Cox (left) with Alaria Petrulis, WICFR conference coordinator

My role as member relations manager is to serve as liaison to all the various member groups that comprise NCFR. I have been with NCFR over a year now, and so I’ve been eager to venture out from our office in Minnesota and meet many of you in your home states and witness the work you do firsthand. I had the pleasure of traveling to three of NCFR’s affiliate conferences this spring, and these experiences filled me with inspiration, and a sense of clarity to the purpose of my role. The membership of NCFR is rich with diversity, and there is much we can learn from our colleagues in different regions of the country.

My first trip was to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the Southeastern Council on Family Relations (SECFR) Annual Conference in early March. Later that month, I flew to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah for the Utah Council on Family Relations (UTCFR) Annual Conference. Finally, I journeyed by train to the Wisconsin Dells for the Wisconsin Council on Family Relations (WICFR) Annual Conference in early April.

Each conference had its own unique regional feel and excelled in different areas. The SECFR conference was able to draw about 40 attendees from the nine states in their region for 31 presentations (oral and poster) and two keynote speakers, over one and a half days. The UTCFR conference had over 210 attendees and featured 57 presentations (oral and poster), and two keynote speakers, all within a span of five and a half hours total. The WICFR conference had a practitioner focus with six oral presentations and two keynote speakers. Additionally, they hosted an eight-hour pre-conference attended by more than half of their total conference attendance of 60 people.

SECFR Award Winners

Katie M. Barrow (far left) and students from Louisiana Tech University at SECFR

SECFR faces an extraordinary challenge in that their region includes nine states, spanning the east coast states of North Carolina to Florida, and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana. Planning this conference requires the consideration of airport locations and driving accessibility. There was an appointed conference chair, but many board members were also assigned conference roles, such as managing the proposal collection, administering student poster awards, managing attendance records, and more. The opening keynote was from a member of the State of Louisiana, Department of Children and Family Services, which provided attendees a sense of what families in the conference’s vicinity are facing. This affiliate conference had the feel of an NCFR conference in that there were keynote speakers, breakout sessions, poster sessions, even name badge ribbons highlighting board members, award winners, and presenters. With a balance of sessions covering research and practical application for practitioners, this conference had something for everyone.

Students and professors from Utah Valley University at Friday's UTCFR Conference

UTCFR cleverly rotates its conference location based on the five universities in Utah that have Family Science programs. Moving from north to south, these universities are Utah State University, Weber State University, the University of Utah, Utah Valley University, and Brigham Young University. Each university host is responsible for planning their conference and naming a conference chair from their faculty. At the end of each conference, the planning chair becomes the president of UTCFR, and planning for the next year’s conference begins at the next university. This rotation allows for equal sharing of conference-hosting responsibilities, as well as smooth transitions in the two vital roles of affiliate council president and conference planning chair. This conference gave family-focused students throughout Utah a professional, local opportunity to present their research, and the selection of keynote speakers demonstrated research to real-life value for all in attendance.

Alaria Petrulis WICFR Conference Coordinator with Keynote speakers Heather Quackenboss, Harvey Joanning, and Nick Lechnir

WICFR chose a family-friendly location for the second year in a row at the Great Wolf Lodge, a resort and indoor water park. This location, in the popular tourist area of the Wisconsin Dells, allowed many attendees to bring their families, and enjoy a brief respite from the cold Wisconsin winter. The keynote and breakout sessions in Wisconsin focused on the application of family-related research in many aspects of life, including: close relationships, preschool years, dementia, parenting, fatherhood, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), brain-body health, adolescent brain development, and family trauma. The Wisconsin council put on a memorable conference offering attendees information they could apply immediately in their lives as well as their practice or research. The conference was heavily attended by students yet was organized in a way that applied to all attendees no matter their level of family knowledge. WICFR leadership draws heavily from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, creating great opportunities for students and recent graduates to expand their skills.

Attendees at WICFR 2018

By attending these three affiliate conferences, I gained great insights into how affiliates work, and the distinct differences between them. While they each have their own set of specific challenges, there is much that affiliates can learn from each other. In addition to serving as the NCFR liaison to each member group, I realized that I can also work to collect and share ideas and lessons learned to all member groups. I look forward to connecting with all Affiliate Councils this spring with the intention of creating a strong bond between NCFR and its Affiliate Councils.

Being away from my own family for ten days for these trips was difficult. This was the first time I was away from my son since he was born two years ago (I’m not sure if that means I’m a dedicated mom or I just need to get out more!). Either way, learning how much heart and passion our Affiliate Councils put into their conferences, made me proud to be on staff at NCFR. You are all doing excellent work to share how families can be understood and strengthened. Although I could only attend three affiliate conferences this year, rest assured I plan to head to your neck of the woods in the next year or two.