The Blue Ridge Institute: A Legacy of Learning, Leading and Renewal for Service Executives.
– Excerpts adapted from original writing by Ricardo Perez
In 1927, a group of 56 dedicated people from throughout the southeast, from what has come to be known as the field of social welfare or human services, came together at a YMCA Camp in the mountains outside of Ashville, NC. They had responded to an invitation from a small group of leaders in Richmond, Virginia who had a vision of a learning experience that would not only help to build leadership and professional skills, but would also provide the opportunity for private and public agency heads to learn from each other.
From that first two-week session, they began to realize that they could also provide personal and moral support to each other so they could return to their communities and continue to strive to achieve excellence in this rapidly changing field. Little could they have imagined that what they were doing was setting in motion an institute that eight decades later has touched the lives of thousands of community service executives throughout the southern United States.
The culture of the Blue Ridge Institute, through its growth and adaption to changing times, has sustained the organization and provided such value to its members. In December of 2011, the Board of Directors voted to merge the Blue Ridge Institute, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, with the Blue Ridge Development Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. In July 2013, the Board voted to remove the geographic boundary requirements for membership. Membership is no longer restricted to the southeast United States, but is open to community service and public service executives from all across the country.
The essence of Blue Ridge is its unique blending of professional and personal growth that occurs within this annual gathering of engaged and committed community service professionals. Like a family, it works, plays, relaxes, challenges, nurtures, loves, and celebrates the joy of coming together in a place of beauty for the good of its members. And, like a healthy family, it recognizes the uniqueness of each of its members. It cherishes the contribution each makes, whether it is through leadership, administrative guidance, humor, song, athletic prowess, or any of the other personal traits and gifts that each member brings to the gathering.
The Blue Ridge Community celebrates and welcomes new members each year. It honors its elders; weeps for the passing of members; sings and honors spirituality and beauty in its various forms. It embraces outside speakers who bring knowledge and experience. It loves the children and grandchildren who come with its members and it provides them with their own Youth Leadership Academy during the week to enhance their experience. Long hours are spent renewing connections, sharing problems, telling stories, and enjoying the company of friends who share a professional connection.
Each year, a new leadership team is assembled and charged with the responsibility of planning and implementing the annual institute two years hence. The leadership team is large, starting with the committee chairs and the committee members, and working up through the various officers to the President for the year. The size of the leadership team creates a learning opportunity for members as well as a sharing of the responsibility for maintaining the organization. In December of 2011, the Board of Directors voted to enter into a management agreement with NASW-FL to handle many of its administrative, financial and logistical needs. In December of 2012, the Board voted to also hire a coordinator for the Youth Leadership Academy.
Blue Ridgers are free to continue our association for as long as we like, no matter where our career takes us. Many retirees continue to attend the conference to enjoy the fellowship and program activities. In exchange for this privilege, we willingly agree to contribute our talent and our energy to make the organization work. We care for each other. We treasure this opportunity to learn, and grow, and love, and regenerate our soul, and we offer the opportunity to become a part of this unique experience to other leaders in our field. Social networking has given us the opportunity to stay in close touch with other “Blue Ridgers” throughout the year. It has strengthened the bonds and given us the opportunity to be more responsive to the membership and to each other.
At the end of each conference, we leave knowing we have been part of something powerful and inspiring, and we know it will be there for us next year. As we bid one another adieu, we go forth with the utter and complete fulfillment that comes from having been a part of something that is profoundly good.
2020 – 2021
The BRI tradition continued despite a pandemic event. BRI members came together virtually for the 2020 and 2020 BRI Conferences to stay connected. While these events reduced the conference week to only a couple of days, BRI was still able to lift up nonprofit leaders to continue to inspire their community.
The BRI tradition continued in our first “post” pandemic event continuing our community growth while growing our Diversity and Inclusion training and membership footprint. BRI members came together at a new location at Massanutten Resort in Virginia where we welcomed and inducted our largest freshperson class since 2017.