Wow! More than 4,300 people attended the 2011 American Counseling Association Annual Conference & Exposition in New Orleans, making it our most well-attended conference in 10 years. Reflecting on my March column, in which I mentioned being on the precipice of a dream fulfilled, I just smile. I am pleased to report that I am basking in the joy of that dream fulfilled, and it is even better in reality.

First, let me say that this year’s conference was absolutely fantastic! If you were not there this year, you were greatly missed, and I hope you will plan on coming next year. I’d like to share a little snippet about why it is important for you to attend the annual conference.

To see your Governing Council in action

The first half of conference week involves working with your Governing Council. You have one of the hardest-working and most committed boards ever. Everyone does her or his extreme best to represent you and the counseling profession. Budget needs, strategic planning initiatives, branch development, graduate student needs and services, international collaborations and development, and crisis response protocols are just a few of the issues discussed. Stay tuned to see the wonderful ways in which these initiatives will be operationalized over time.

To strengthen the profession through unity and collaboration

About a year and a half ago, I met with the region chairs-elect and division presidents-elect during our Council of Presidents and Region Chairs (COPARC) meeting. We discussed ways to demonstrate our unity and commitment to the growth of our profession and to one another. A significant moment occurred when we discovered the many ways we are similar and how important it is to work as a team for the betterment of all. As a group, we agreed to invest in a Giving Back to the Community day, a concept one of our divisions developed a number of years ago. This year, all divisions and regions committed to getting involved in some aspect or another. At many conferences in the past, numerous divisions had worked on ways to positively impact the host community, but there had never been a coordinated effort to engage all divisions and regions under a single umbrella.

You see, in previous years, I felt as though we would go in and do what I call “drive-by” service with no meaningful, lasting impact on the community. However, when I discussed this with COPARC, every president-elect and region chair-elect was committed to the idea. The Giving Back to the Community Day morphed into an event involving 900 participants. Some of the sponsored events included refurbishing historic Holt Cemetery, the Social Justice Leadership Development Academy, working with Catholic Charities, the New Orleans Recovery School District Project, and the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development/International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors Juvenile Justice Intervention Project and Wellness In-Service Intervention.

In addition, the Association for Adult Development and Aging sponsored the New Orleans AIDS Task Force, while the Association for Creativity in Counseling, the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, the Association for Specialists in Group Work and the National Employment Counseling Association also sponsored events. Other entities, divisions and regions contributed to this day — and beyond — as well.

To hear the keynotes and take advantage of educational opportunities

We had two phenomenal keynote speakers. The first was Soledad O’Brien, who stole our hearts with the way she weaved the “Giving Back to the Community” theme into her story. I was already a fan, and I walked away knowing that she is a woman of great substance — not just beautiful on the outside but genuinely a beautiful person on the inside. Then, there was Dr. Judith Beck, who shared a wealth of practical knowledge related to cognitive behavioral approaches. My only disappointment was that she did not have more time to spend on the weight loss information. I was waiting patiently to see if she could give me more insight on my struggles with this issue! LOL, I guess I will have to buy her book on that topic.

Beyond the keynotes, there was an array of educational sessions and ancillary events. I am still looking through the Program Guide at all the events I missed. Additional reasons for attending ACA’s annual conferences include social and networking opportunities, career advancement, rejuvenation and — especially if you are a graduate student — exposure to leadership. Again, there was something great happening for everyone at this year’s conference.

I hope I have given you a brief view of the wonderful time we had in NOLA. I am hoping to see all of you next year in San Francisco, where new memories will be made. Thank you again to everyone! If I missed someone or something in my brief summary, please forgive me in advance! I look forward to your continued involvement.