SourceAmerica’s 2019 Grassroots Advocacy Conference: A Father’s Perspective - Day One With The Rock Stars

By Robert Pelikan 07/11/2019
SourceAmerica’s 2019 Grassroots Advocacy Conference: A Father’s Perspective - Day One With The Rock Stars

Rock stars descended on Washington, D.C. on June 3, 2019. I'm not talking about your average rock stars – these were A-listers like my son, RJ, who is so awesome, he is known just by his initials; Remi, who is known for her dance moves and spunky personality; Jake, who loves to perform and taught himself to play guitar by the age of eight; Tyrone, a music lover and impeccable dresser; and many others, including a healthcare worker named Mayloni. These young men and women impressed me with their moving stories, winning smiles and genuine character.

Welcome to the 2019 Grassroots Advocacy Conference!

The evening kicked off with an icebreaker session, while Jake sang songs and played his guitar. The scene reminded me of a time long ago when my nephew Edward was struggling with his guitar chords. Sitting on our front porch, his friend began to help him. Later, I saw that same friend play his first concert, and Jake now covers some of his songs. Jake is the true rock star to me, although I still listen to songs by that friend of my nephew's – John Mayer.

Dinner that night at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center was delish. We started with a Caesar salad, and it only got better with the next course, which included steak, crab cakes, mashed potatoes and little tomatoes. It was a plate full of enjoyment. For dessert, we had a berry tart that was most yummylicious. My thanks goes out to all the staff at the Marriott for that amazing dinner and for everything else they did to make us feel welcome – and especially to Joe, who met us curbside with a warm greeting you would give to a family member.

The evening was just getting started. We heard from Shari Walton of SourceAmerica. It was awesome to put a face to the person who was updating me about the trip via email. Shari is the Director of Government Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy. The CEO, Vince Loose, chimed in next about the good work of SourceAmerica and the obstacles it is facing. Next up was Rachna, who talked about her rock star son Jake. She faced many obstacles paving his path to awesomeness. It shouldn't be so hard. They are the same obstacles many of us parents of gifted children face. Children are a gift, and we as adults get the awesome responsibility of being mama and papa bear. We protect and sometimes growl and charge forward. My wife, Laura, is the definition of mama bear. RJ's sister, Amy, can sometimes be mean to her brother, but no one else can. Amy is a 4th Degree Black Belt who protects those close to her.

Later in the evening, David Egan, Community Relations Specialist at SourceAmerica, worked the crowd: "I can't hear you. HOW IS EVERYBODY DOING?"

He called for the left side to chime in, and then the right side, and then the middle. Because it doesn't matter whether you are on the right side of politics or the left side or even in the middle. We all need to work together for the greater good, which is always the correct decision. What an awesome choice of emcee! David was another true rock star I had the pleasure of meeting.

The keynote speaker, Tim Shriver, was good, and he told some good stories, BUT…he can't hold a candle to the true A-list rock stars.

Special Olympics – Tim Shriver's organization – has been a huge part of my life both as a coach and as a cheerleader. It is better to give than receive, but sometimes by giving you receive a much greater gift in return. I always get way more in return than I give when it comes to Special Olympics. Bunny ears in pictures and hugs and smiles are the things in life that really matter. Fun and laughter are contagious when hanging with the rock stars.

After that, the agenda for day one of the SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference came to a close, and I couldn't wait for day two.

It was still early in the night, so we headed out the revolving door and started strolling toward the house that was designed by James Hoban, better known as the White House. Three days later, our taxi driver, Ross, would quiz us on the White House, and we would fail miserably. Our next stop was to see that tall obelisk, better known as the Washington Monument, which was closed because they were updating the elevator. RJ and I would have taken the stairs if that were allowed, but they've been closed for over 40 years. There are 898 steps to the top of the monument. Over the next few days we would learn more about the number 898 and how it was an important reason for our trip. In short, the Section 898 Panel's report to Congress in 2018 provided recommendations to improve the AbilityOne program – for the meat and potatoes, visit this link:

After our walk back from the monument, it was time to say goodnight. We crashed after watching the Blues beat the Bruins, and I slept soundly even without MYPillow.

Day one was officially in the books, and I couldn't wait for our adventure to continue tomorrow. Stay tuned!