Donuts, Coffee, and Standing Ovations

By Alex Bury, Organizational Development Consultant

VO in LA

This past weekend, Vegan Outreach staff, volunteers, board members, and donors gathered in Los Angeles to attend the 2016 Animal Rights National Conference.

The day before the conference kicked off, VO employees and board members attended an all-day staff meeting.

The first six months of 2016 have been full of growth, change, and planning, but it wasn’t until we were all sitting together in LA, fully stocked with vegan donuts and a five-gallon vat of coffee, that we truly realized what VO has achieved in such a short amount of time.

Staff meeting food

Jack Norris, VO’s Executive Director and President, started off the meeting by presenting “The State of the Organization” and what the plans are for the organization going forward. Jack’s talk ended with the first of several standing ovations during the weekend!

For the rest of the meeting, we made it a point to get to know each other a little better, since 13 of the 26 VO employees are brand new! We made this a priority because nearly all VO’s employees work remotely. Having remote staff means the organization doesn’t have to pay for a big central office and we’re more efficient with outreach to different parts of the world, but it also means we don’t see each other that often.

Old staff had fun reconnecting with their colleagues, and we all loved meeting new staffers, like Jev Martel from Canada, Katia Rodriguez from Mexico, Uma Karri-Hughes from Texas, Sean Hennessy from Illinois, and Jamila Alfred from DC.

Some of us movement oldies—but still goodies, right?—loved sitting back and watching the fresh blast of energy from new people mix with the ideas, skills, and experience of long-term activists like Vic Sjodin and Yuri Mitzkewich.

Staff meeting

And we were thrilled to have two of our fabulous board members, Yvonne LeGrice and Melissa Li, join us at the retreat. We were bummed the other three members couldn’t attend, but extremely happy that Yvonne and Melissa were able to meet most of the VO team in person!

After lunch—vegan pizza, naturally—we all had a chance to talk about diversity and inclusion.

We’ve been discussing and learning a great deal about this topic lately—via emails, reading assignments, and monthly video-conference training calls—but nothing can replace having a face-to-face conversation about something so important. David Carter, Paige Carter, and Brenda Sanders led us in a discussion about why the new diversity work matters. Asking people of color to take the time to teach white people about racism is a big ask. It means you have to live the racism every day and spend your energy talking about it with others. We are deeply grateful to be going down this path with David, Paige, and Brenda.

Staff meeting

We ended the day by talking about outreach training, social media effectiveness—like not writing posts as long as this one is—and how the VO nonfundraising staff members can help take care of our wonderful donors. Lisa Rimmert and Lori Stultz also led us through some silly icebreakers, so we had lots of laughter along with the serious stuff.

AR2016 was overwhelming, fun, busy, and inspiring. Full confession: Some of us went into the conference a little jaded. We’ve been attending these conferences for so long, but this year we saw it through the eyes of our new staff and we got caught up in the energy again! A lot of us remembered how our lives changed forever when we attended our first conference.

The workshops were important for both new activists and experienced activists who were looking to improve their strategies. We all had a blast hanging out at the VO booth meeting donors and volunteers we’ve emailed with but had never met, seeing old friends in the movement, experimenting with how much caffeine you need to get through a full day of intense meetings, and, of course, buying awesome new animal rights shirts.

Steve and Vic at AR2016

Jack Norris, Michelle Cehn, Vic Sjodin, Brenda Sanders, and David Carter all gave talks at the conference. Jack covered vegan nutrition and how to retain new vegans, Michelle spoke about social media, Vic talked about the importance of personal advocacy, and Brenda reminded everyone of the importance of taking the vegan message into other, nonvegan communities we identify with.

Jack, Vic, and Brenda at AR2016

AR2016 started just as a week of shootings was ending. It would have been easy to relax into a bubble of other like-minded animal people and pretend the outside world wasn’t struggling. Lisa stayed up most of Thursday night writing a blog post reminding those in a position of privilege to not remain complacent when it comes to the large-scale systematic racism taking place in our country.

David spoke at the Saturday night banquet, and he decided to change his planned speech in light of the current events. He spoke off the cuff and from the heart—to put it mildly. When his talk ended, we saw the second standing ovation of the weekend—this one with hundreds of people instead of 25. Rocking the boat is never easy and if you’re in a position of less privilege, it can be outright dangerous. The next day we heard lots of compliments and conversations about David’s talk, so it’s safe to say this was a very successful boat rocking!

The animal rights movement is going through some intense changes. It’s both exciting and hard. Even the tough days are worth it, though: We can’t allow ourselves to stagnate, and we can’t keep ignoring pressing social issues that intersect with the animal rights movement. If we want mainstream society to take our movement seriously, we have to be part of things. We cannot sit way over to the side and pretend that conversations about inequality are not happening.

VO table at AR2016

One place these conversations were happening was at the Vegan Outreach table. And on that note, we want to give a huge shout-out to Josie Moody, VO’s wonderful Office Manager, who maintained the VO merchandise table the entire weekend. Josie made this conference seem effortless. Hundreds of people met her big smile and fast service over the weekend. And thanks to Sean Hennessy and Kevin Gallagher, who also did a lot to help out at the table.

Kevin, Sean, and Josie at AR2016

For most of the staff, the long weekend ended on Sunday evening or Monday morning as we all made our way to the airport or got in our cars to go home. Lisa and Lori joined Seth Tibbott, founder of Tofurky, and about a dozen other conference attendees to tour Farm Sanctuary’s Southern California shelter. Katia Rodriguez and Emmanuel Marquez were not far behind, so all of them enjoyed the morning getting to know the sanctuary’s pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, and goats.

Lisa, Lori, Katia, Emmanuel, and friends at Animal Acres

This was an extremely valuable weekend for so many reasons, and we look forward to continuing our outreach and sharing more about our diversity work as time goes on.

Breege, Uma, Jamila, and Lana at AR2016

And stay tuned for the full coverage of the amazing vegan food we all got to enjoy while in LA!


Recent Feedback

I am very satisfied with my mentor! We do not communicate often but I know she is there if I have any questions. It was exciting to find that there was a vegan in my area! She gave me helpful hints and recipes [and] is prompt to respond. I am currently vegan. Thank you for this program.

—MR, Midland, TX, 6/20/16

American Idol finalist Amy Jean Davis [below] went vegan after getting a booklet at Purdue University in 2002!

—Vic Sjodin, 7/8/16

  Amy Jean Davis at AR2016  


Upcoming Events

Vegan: Everyday Stories Movie Screenings

July 13 • San Francisco, CA
July 23 • Hamden, CT
July 23 • Gainesville, FL

This feature-length documentary about the lives of four everyday vegans will be screening in various cities across the US and in Bali, Indonesia, and Whistler, British Columbia. More info.

More upcoming events.


Vegan Outreach is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working to expose and end cruelty to animals through the widespread distribution of our booklets promoting plant-based eating and compassion for animals.

All donations are fully tax-deductible.

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