As we have remained socially distanced while navigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, one insight rings true: we need connection to keep our communities strong. That’s why OneStar moved our annual AmeriCorps Texas Grantee Meeting—held March 10-12, 2021—to an online format, giving our national service programs a virtual space to continue building relationships and share experiences from this extraordinary year.
The theme of this year’s event was Community Through Connection, which gave us the opportunity to celebrate creative ways that AmeriCorps Texas programs stepped up this past year to address pressing community needs in compassionate and personal ways.
Here are a few memorable highlights from this year’s AmeriCorps Texas Grantee Meeting:
- Going virtual. After months of online video conferences, we had to get creative to keep participants engaged. We used tools such as breakout rooms, polls, and annotation, which created an opportunity for connection and engagement outside the traditional webinar format.
- Organizing affinity groups. This year, we offered sessions targeted to specialized affinity groups, with tracks for fiscal grants management, recruitment, and member management and engagement. This allowed us to tailor content to relevant audiences, provide more opportunities for sharing challenges and best practices, and deepen engagement around critical topics.
- Amplifying program voices. AmeriCorps Texas Grantee Meeting is an opportunity for our programs across the state to connect with one another. To facilitate peer learning, we intentionally structured the majority of our sessions as panel discussions, spotlighting the practical, real-world perspective of experts working on the front lines. We invited grantees to present on a range of topics, from leadership development and member onboarding to program income and Fixed Award grants.
- Leading beyond compliance. While AmeriCorps Texas Grantee Meeting offers a lot of technical training and assistance, we know that running a successful and thriving AmeriCorps program requires more than just checking the boxes. That’s why we invited Tray Deadwyler from Think for Good to offer a keynote address on Leading Beyond Compliance: Courage, Connection, Communication, Connecting the Dots. Tray shared some incredible methods for building connections, providing useful feedback, and coaching for success. He walked us through a motivational analysis where he asked participants to assess our “why” in order to determine our primary leadership style. Tray reminded us that to be effective leaders, we must strengthen our relationship and goal-oriented behaviors. We can do this by remembering to “seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood.” Tray taught us methods for providing effective feedback. One of my biggest takeaways was how intentional, thoughtful communication breeds connection.