Over the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of facilitating the First-Timers event at the American Counseling Association Convention, often using “Oh, the places you’ll go” (think Dr. Seuss) as my opening. What a great opportunity to network and collaborate with colleagues and practitioners; provide information that may increase participation in branch, region and division activities; introduce leaders from various levels of ACA’s structure; and broaden the view of our organization’s vast resources.

I talked with many attendees in Detroit and decided to ask two first-timers to share their thoughts about the conference.

Areta Phillips: Even though I registered and made the necessary reservations, my first feeling was fear, and I asked myself what I was thinking. In all my many years, I had never before traveled completely alone, but I was determined not to let fear stop me. I wanted to expand my horizons, to push my limits, and this was one reason I came to the ACA Convention in Detroit. The airport was so confusing, but fortunately I got to the place where I was to pick up my luggage, and there stood a lady with a sign that read “ACA.” That was one welcome sight! Oh, the places you go and the people you meet.

Although I had been warned not to walk alone anywhere in Detroit, the COBO Center was three blocks away from my hotel. I could recognize other conference participants who were walking because of their badges and bags with the ACA logo. Everyone I talked to was friendly, but I was still very scared. Later, I was introduced to the shuttle and was able to go where I needed to be with ease.

I attended the Welcome Reception in the COBO Exhibit Hall. I still felt very much alone in the midst of hundreds of people, not knowing anyone. While many were in groups, it helped when one of the ladies at the table where I sat talked to me.

Highlights for me included (keynote speaker) Linda Ellerbee and the First-Timers Orientation and Mentoring Luncheon. Both were delightful. At the end of the program, a dear lady by the name of Carol took me up to the president’s suite and I met Marie Wakefield, the president of ACA. The support I felt heightened my spirit of feeling connected.

I enjoyed the Education Sessions very much, although I had a hard time choosing which to attend out of so many choices. My interest is aging, and I attended some very good sessions on the subject. Anytime I asked for help, whomever I spoke to was very accommodating. Sometimes the person would walk me to my destination. I felt strange being surrounded by all those Ph.D.s when I am still working on my bachelor’s at the age of 72. But I am convinced that the ACA people are the greatest.

Moses Powe: From a first-timer’s prospective, I thoroughly enjoyed my first ACA Convention. The events that had the most impact on me were the private practice seminar, which really motivated me to look into starting my own practice to create those multiple streams of income; the DSM-IV training, which was much too short but perfect timing for a refresher; and the Multicultural Mixer. I look forward to doing it all over again in Honolulu.

Many happy returns

People keep returning to ACA conferences for many reasons. Here is what a few of our colleagues said.

Nancy Gentis: I had not attended an ACA Convention since it was held in Reno, Nev. The academic sessions, the opportunities to be introduced to so many practitioners from a variety of settings and the vast amount of available new material was exciting. Oh, the places you go and the people who come. What was most impressive was to see all the past presidents. To be among them and talk with them was truly a privilege. Their commitment to the association and the profession is so cool!

Carol Shaw: Oh, the places you will go and the friends you will make! Through the years, I have attended over a dozen ACA conferences from the early nineties to Detroit. I am a retired middle school guidance counselor who is still trying to figure out what she wants to do when she grows up. At the ACA conferences, not only are my needs met in areas of interest, but I also feel new topics are constantly emerging. With that in mind, I have chosen to maintain my credentials — NCC and LCPC. ACA conferences have always been a great place to earn continuing education credits and to maintain connections in the world of counseling. I have been enriched by so many sessions that I have attended and the people I have met along the way. Thanks ACA!

Robert Chope: I attended my first ACA Convention in 1975 and gave two presentations there, one based on my dissertation and the other based on research I was doing at the time. The meetings back then were very formal. Papers were delivered from panels of five or six people, and the individual presentations were shorter. A great feature that is part of our conferences today is the poster sessions that have more research-related topics.

Oh, the places you go and the things you can do. I have been very active over the years in the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association, the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education, the National Career Development Association and the National Employment Counseling Association. I think that ACA gives everyone an opportunity to be his or her personal best. Opportunities are available everywhere, although sometimes it takes a bit of mentoring to get people started. As a member of the 20/20 Committee, I saw colleagues I had not seen in 32 years. For me, the convention is a potpourri of excitement, a showcase of valuable contributions, full of energy and commitment to issues that concern me, such as social justice, serving the underserved in the employment arena and multiculturalism in career development.

What was different for me this time was that I was in meetings almost every day from 7 in the morning on. Part of this is being committed to so many boards and activities. However, I take the time to connect both at the presentations, the book signings and the social hours. I write for VISTAS and use the ACA Convention to try out new ideas. I closed both the ACA party and the AMCD party. Of course, I will be in Honolulu.

As you attend ACA conferences, what you take away professionally and personally can prove very rewarding in your circles of conversation. Sharing what you learned with colleagues is an excellent way to encourage others to share their own knowledge and expertise through presentations. It also ensures that we honor our many colleagues who have made contributions to the profession. Plus, it promotes the camaraderie and leadership development that can further evolve at branch, region and division events. So I hope to see you all next year in Hawaii.

There seems to be no shortage of counseling professionals who desire to make a difference and love doing just that! Thank you for your commitment, your participation and your engagement. I look forward to hearing from you and hope you will feel free to communicate with me via e-mail at mawakefield@cox.net or by calling 800.347.6647 ext. 232.