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Lessons from CLINIC's 2012 Convening in Austin

Jun 11, 2012
H.A. Abella

I am not new to conventions and conferences. I have found myself in the middle of the action for days on end and at venues with more than 60,000 people in attendance. But my first time at CLINIC’s Annual Convening —this year held in Austin, TX— will be a time to remember for two reasons: It surpassed all of my expectations and taught me an important lesson.

From May 23rd through the 25th, Austin’s weather was simply gorgeous. The warm, balmy evening breeze posed an invitation to wind down in the outdoors, walking around downtown or peeking out from bar rooftops, marveling at the blaring sounds and buzz of the ‘live music capital of the world.’ Nearly all our busy schedules, however, were spent indoors along our convening crowd.

Attendees, mostly members of CLINIC’s 200-plus network affiliates, infused me with a  much keener feeling than I have ever experienced. Not a single face carried the bored, weary ‘I’d rather be somewhere else’ look I have

witnessed so many times before at conferences. These 320 or so people looked energized and eager to get down to business. Because I handle part of CLINIC’s social media, I jumped from one plenary session on to another, tweeting about the latest trends or changes in migration policy. Whether workshops offered tips on client case management, ideas for family reunification visas or advice on how to revive old adjustment of status applications, I was moved by the passion of these advocates to learn from our experts and each other, making an even larger difference in their clients’ lives. Time and time again, I witnessed how the lively presentations of CLINIC trainers gained praise from engaged audiences.

“If you want to do an appeal, CLINIC is the way to go,” said Janet B. Beck, a University of Houston Law Center professor, as she received CLINIC’s annual Pro Bono Award.

This moment was an eye opener. Beck, who supervises law students at the university’s Immigration Clinic, was genuinely moved by a tribute she called a "career milestone." I had to wonder, how many people would dedicate their lives to doing good without expecting a penny in return? Not many.

My second revelation would not take long to come by. At the end of my own Friday workshop on social media, a young lady approached the stage. Although she was interested in using Twitter and Facebook, she cared a lot more about getting advice on how to build, on the cheap, a webpage to advertise her facility. I was shocked.

Thinking big in a nonprofit scenario is a valuable asset. I admit, though, how fast the frustration can set in when resources are hard to come by. Convening reminded me that there are many of us out there who dream big and remain unfazed by the challenges before us. Even when they have  little more than their bare hands to achieve them.  For this reason, I walk away from CLINIC's 2012 Convening with a better understanding of our network and a renewed dedication to meeting the needs of community legal immigration programs.

*H.A. Abella is the Communications Officer/Grants Manager for CLINIC