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Synergy 2017: Here’s What I Learned

Do you remember the song “Cooperation Makes It Happen” from Sesame Street, circa 1985? It may betray my age, but for some odd reason the chorus to this song became my personal theme song for Synergy. It basically goes like this: “Cooperation makes it happen, cooperation working together.”

When I was asked to attend the Synergy Conference, I had heard about Synergy, but I’d never attended. Synergy Conference is an annual event, provided through the partnership of Professionals, Advocates, Resources (PAR) and Ohio Self Determination Association (OSDA). The welcome packet described the event as an opportunity for people from different locations and backgrounds to join together, share stories, network, and form lasting friendships. Synergy is meant to energize people to create excitement about jobs, lives, and abilities. It is a forum to encourage change, without boundaries and where everyone is equal. I registered, along with a co-worker Dawn and two of our friends, Hannah and Katie. We planned to stay for two days and signed up for sessions that ranged from The Good Life to Employment Stories.

The keynote speaker on the first day was right up my alley: Anthony Ianni, an Autism and Bullying Awareness Advocate from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. If you are a college basketball fan like me, you might recognize his name. Anthony Ianni played center for Tom Izzo at Michigan State a few years ago. What I didn’t know is that he was the first known athlete with autism to play not only in the Big Ten, but in all Division I Basketball. Mr. Ianni shared his experiences as a child diagnosed on the spectrum, how people in his life supported him, and how he ended up playing for one of the most famous collegiate coaches in the nation. Despite all of his accomplishments, the message ringing loud and clear was that it was not accolades that motivated Mr. Ianni. It was the rapport and relationships he established with his family, teachers, and coaches that enabled him to succeed. A team effort – sounds like “cooperation,” right?

Although the following sessions were interesting, little did I know that our foursome would end up teaching me the most about Synergy. In between sessions, we had time to get to know each other during meals and free time. We supported each other through one gal’s first-ever hotel stay, and we held hands while overcoming fears of riding in the elevator. We shopped the vendor booths at the hotel, tried a restaurant that was new for everyone, and did some shopping on the way back to the hotel. (What better way to get to know three ladies than by shoe shopping?) Despite having very different personalities, we learned there are more similarities between us than differences. We learned who loves buckeye candies, who gets homesick, who loves scary stories, and who feels annoyed when other people talk too long. At one point I was humming the tune to “Cooperation Makes it Happen” while we talked out a compromise in our schedule.

As I reflect on my experience at Synergy, I am thankful for the time I shared with Dawn, Hannah and Katie. I am thankful for Anthony Ianni’s testimony, and I hope that we can fill Mr. Ianni’s size 18 shoes as we work together to support people of all abilities. Most of all, I hope to remember that “Cooperation Makes It Happen.”

If you’re interested in this event, I’d seriously encourage you to attend. Save the date for the 2018 Synergy Conference: October 3-5, at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Dublin, OH.


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