>As you’ve likely heard if you spent a minute or so in communication with me in the last month, we recently hosted the first-ever Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged (#AWBU) conference at the Ozark Natural Science Center.
I’m personally indebted to Stephanie Buckley (The Park Wife), Fawn Rechkemmer (Instead of the Dishes and Momcation) and Julie Kohl (Willow Tree Creek Farm) for accepting a phone call from a stranger inviting them to gather bloggy ladies from all over Arkansas at a remote spot in the woods. They not only enthusiastically agreed, they’ve welcomed me into their fold and I am now most fortunate to consider them dear friends. I predict much future plotting, gallivanting and general antics out of us collectively – be forewarned.
Normally following an event, I would post a recap on the ONSC blog – however, a blog conference is unique in its ability to generate unique perspective and posts from each attendee. Since they’ve all done such an incredible job (read their posts or add your own at the end of this post), I’ll let the story of the weekend be told through their voices. Instead, I had to share a few things that I saw happen – all of which reflect the transformative nature of time spent in the Ozarks with good company:
This conference brought so many people out of their boxes and outside their norms. To me, these were the most exciting successes of the event. Novice bloggers attended their first blog conference, empowered by having access to such an event that was both affordable and accessible. Lyndi hosted her first Twitter party. Julie set up a Twitter account and is using social media to market her farm goods – oh, the irony! Annette left New York for Arkansas and flinched slightly less when critters got too close, and Robyn left her online world with something akin to glee – and holy cow, she posted a link to National Get Outdoors Day on her blog – love it!
Mailena confessed a great love of the Buffalo and the Ozarks that is the basis for what will no doubt be a long and happy marriage. Steph did not hyperventilate while using crafty scissors. Courtney said words that were music to my ears: “Maybe we should hold a team retreat out here so people will actually listen.”
From stay at home moms to working professionals, women realized that their blog is their voice and an opportunity to explore themselves and their hopes for their families as well as a foothold for their own dreams. Gals who were certain the outdoors was not for them found that it’s quite enjoyable in small doses. The uncertainty of the first day of school, of potentially not fitting in with others, of blending disparate personalities all melted away as women were kind and encouraging toward one another. The incomparable Jasmine delivered belly laughs (pun intended) that may very well have been the cure for the soul that a few ladies didn’t even know they were seeking – and she brought the bedazzled Chacos.
My very favorite moment may have been when I was pleasantly surprised to find not just three or four of our more adventuresome attendees, but rather almost every single lady clamoring around exceptional teacher naturalist Roslyn Imrie, who held out our conference’s mascot she-turtle AWBX. They asked questions. They listened. They learned. Hey – that’s exactly what we try to teach kids at ONSC! Our folks plant the seed of knowledge and send kids back into the world to positively affect it. That happened at #AWBU too.
At the risk of teetering on the edge of cheesiness, I have to say that I saw so many gestures that went above and beyond. It’s impossible to properly communicate just how many people saw the potential for something great in this little event, and they threw themselves into its success with great enthusiasm. The relationships built and the future collaborations will be exciting to watch. My heart nearly stopped when I learned that Jasmine asked that contributions be made to ONSC in lieu of gifts for her baby shower. Read that sentence again and process that level of thoughtfulness and generosity. We could all use a little more of it in our lives.
For AWBU, we didn’t promise high-tech stuff – we said we’d save that for a future “real” conference. There will be a time (not far off!) and a place (maybe Little Rock?) for graphic design, WordPress tips, search engine optimization and monetization. This was just what we promised originally: a chance to unplug, step away from the screen, look each other in the eye, be inspired and really connect. I think it worked.
The tagline of the conference may very well be: Arkansas Women Bloggers. We’re kind of a big deal.