In mid-June I embarked on my first major road trip in my new car. I dropped my mother off in western PA to spend time with her family and I continued on to Akron, Ohio to attend the first three days of the ALHFAM annual meeting. For those of you who are uninitiated, ALHFAM is the Association of Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums. It is a national organization with regional subsets and the annual meeting moves around to diverse locations in the US and Canada every year. Each region also holds smaller regional conferences throughout the year as well. The last time I had attended an annual meeting was in 2009 when the organization convened in Winston-Salem, so I was very excited to return.
ALHFAM annual meetings consist of not only conference sessions, but also field trips, hands-on workshops, and all kinds of unique activities that you just have to present to witness yourself to understand. Generally, I think ALHFAM conferences are the best I've ever attended and certainly the most fun. The atmosphere is always super friendly, laid back and relaxed, but professional. For field trip day I signed up for a trip to Cleveland where our group got to tour the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Cuyahoga Valley Soldier's and Sailor's Monument, with a stop for lunch at Great Lakes Brewing. Most of the conference sessions I attended dealt with interpretation, particularly first-person interpretation and the role of historic sites in the ever changing field of 21st century learning. The entire group also took a field trip to two Mormon history sites and a working living history farm. All in all, it's hard to beat the experiences you have at an ALHFAM conference.
But it's not just the quality of the conferences and the excellent learning experiences that make ALHFAM a great organization. What is really special about ALHFAM is the relationships that are created and nurtured through the organization. It really is like a big family (hence the organizational moniker ALHFAMily). Though I hadn't been to an annual meeting in four years, it was as if I had never left. I saw plenty of familiar faces, many of whom I've stayed in touch with through the wonders of Facebook and Linked-In, and it was like we'd only just seen each other last week. I also met lots of new folks who I will look forward to seeing at future conferences. The people of ALHFAM are what makes ALHFAM special. It is a truly warm, caring, friendly, and professional group of folks. When someone asks me what an ALHFAM conference is like, I often say it's like summer camp for adults. The feeling I get at ALHFAM conferences is much the same as when I was attending youth conferences at Montreat Conference Center in the North Carolina mountains as a teenager. By the end of the week you feel like you want to stay forever and never let the moment end. But in the end you know that the feeling can't possibly last forever. The real world awaits, just beyond the conference reach, and you must return to that world with all it's responsibilities. You will take things that you learned and apply them in that real world. And you will eagerly anticipate the next time you are able to be with this special group of people, even if it's four years away. And when you return, you know that you will find the friendship, acceptance, and fun that always attends a gathering of the ALHFAMily. So to all of my friends in ALHFAM, I miss you and I can't wait to see you somewhere/sometime down the road!