Located along the banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati boasts a metropolitan area population over 2.1 million people. Originally named Losantville, it was renamed in honor of George Washington whom people of his day likened to the Roman leader, Cincinnatus, an aristocrat who left his farm in perilous times to fight for the survival of the Roman Republic and returned to that farm when his task was successfully completed. It is the site of the first paid city fire department in our country. It is also the home of the first professional baseball team, the Red Stockings. Until the advent and expansion of rail systems, Cincinnati was the most important of the inland cities, rivaling the great eastern coast cities of our land. It served as a gateway to the heart of America. This year it was the site of the 117th National Parent Teacher Association Conference. It became our gateway into the hearts and minds of the most resolute group of child advocates anywhere: their parents.
The ride to Cincy did not start off propitiously. No sooner had we ventured onto the construction snarled Belt Parkway than we sat at a standstill in a 50 minute traffic jam. Faced with the trip’s minimum duration of at least 12 travel hours, Matt Barbis, the Founder & Chairman, Maryann, the Vice President of Operations & Development, and I, the Educational Coordinator, were not overjoyed by this stop so close to home. Luckily and quite happily for this trio, the remainder of the journey passed relatively uneventful and we reached the Queen City around 10:30 pm.
On Thursday we headed to the Duke Energy Convention Center, a short walk from our hotel. Exhibitors were in the hall assembling and fitting out their booths. Our booth number was 222. I don’t know if you are old enough to remember the television series about an urban high school, Room 222, which told the stories of teachers, students and their families. To me and Maryann (both obviously of an age to remember it) it seemed a positive sign. Matt dealt with the logistics of getting ready for the event: table, chairs, carpet, our signs, posters, DVDs and giveaways all set out and ready for the hoped for crowd.
I walked up and down the various aisles to check out the various enterprises in attendance. Some touted learning experiences directed through their programs. Some sold textbooks; some hawked school uniforms. Many were involved in ventures PTAs might adopt in order to generate funds for their activities. In the most interesting example of irony, a fast food restaurant chain with a double wide booth (further irony!) was positioned directly across for a booth decrying the obesity problem of our young people and another booth describing the advantages of a wholesome diet for school lunches! Some offered services for a fee while additionally offering tee shirts and engraved mugs for sale. As you know, the Rose Brucia program is entirely free.
At 5pm we were in position and ready to meet our first convention goers. Members of the Ohio state PTA board were the first we greeted. The president of that group wants us to teleconference with that body. The president of the Mississippi state PTA asked us to participate in that state’s next convention in Jackson, as did the president of the Oklahoma state board when she asked us to visit Tulsa next year. We connected with 27 states in all, Georgia, Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Arkansas, Nevada, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Maine, in addition to speaking with delegates from the US Virgin Islands and from US Armed Forces PTA delegates from Germany. We met with parents and teachers from as far away as Alaska and California. Each to a person would listen politely to our “spiel” and then so often follow up with these words: We need you in our state. The concern is there and the need for such a program is there. People are willing to go to their school districts and push for stranger safety awareness education programs. And by the way this interest was not a shallow “Nice to meet you!” or “I’ll be back to talk later!” because the very first night, after just a two hour meet and greet, the programs of the Rose Brucia Educational Foundation were downloaded by 27 different delegates to that convention. Matt had the foresight to imprint on the back of our business cards a QR code, or Quick Response Code. The QR code is made of black square dots arranged in a square grid on a white background. Using their smartphones, delegates were able to go directly to our lessons and download them. And they did!
There are three meetings with delegates I believe you should consider.
First, a lady approached our table. She seemed distant, as if she had some place she’d rather be, that her visit was distinctly pro forma. I asked the name of her home state. “Iowa,” she said. “You people should be in our state. We just had three children abducted and murdered.” She told us about the crimes committed against two boys, 7 and 9, out riding their bicycles and a teenage girl taken right off the school bus one afternoon. Even in our heartland!
Second, we met delegates from Nebraska. The verbal interplay was strong and we were able to recognize them easily as they strolled from booth to booth. The next day they sought us out. After being made aware that one of the delegates was the school principal, I turned to another lady and asked if she too was a teacher. She said, “No, I’m a jeweler.” She then asked when our golf outing was. I told her it was August 19th. She told me she wished to create a piece of jewelry for our auction to be used as a fundraiser. Even I was at a loss for words, except for “Thank you!
Third, we met two lovely delegates from Georgia. One was so taken with our mission she said she was going to contact her US congressman directly about doing some type of awareness program at his local headquarters. The other delegate was thrilled by the accessibility of our program and delighted when she heard we offer a Girl Scout badge in Stranger Safety Awareness for the scouts who complete our requirements.
They are out there. And we can no longer refer to them as “they.” These caring people, parents, teachers, grandparents, and even students, all now have faces and stories to go with their names. These people filled Matt, Maryann, and me with such positive energy that our trip home seemed over quickly. Our Foundation had tried myriad ways to get our message across. This proved to be the correct pathway. We took our first steps to making the Rose Brucia Educational Foundation known nationwide. Road trip, anyone?