I well remember my first conversation with the director of the FPEA about speaking at the Convention. It was almost 10 years ago, and I had never been to Florida, so the idea of coming to a really big conference in a really nice place was very appealing to me, and especially appealing to the daughter who was most often helping me at conventions in those early years.
To say the FPEA treated me like royalty would be an understatement — I never felt so welcomed and appreciated anywhere. Of course, the Gaylord Palms Resort venue was unlike any conference location I’d ever seen, and it felt like an undeserved luxury after years of Motel 6’s and Best Westerns. For my daughter it was practically a theme park in its own right, with live alligators in the indoor pools and free movies on the big screen under the moonlit atrium. Upon entering the huge exhibit hall, I had my first hint as to the magnitude of the event. People had warned me, “It’s big…,” but I really didn’t expect what I experienced.
Although I was no newbie to public speaking, I was used to groups from a few dozen to a few hundred and rarely experienced nervousness. But when I walked in to a ballroom set with 1,200 seats already packed close to capacity, I had to catch my breath. However, I found this group of happy, excited, ready-to-learn homeschool parents to be immediately receptive and grateful. When the whole room laughed at my first meager attempt at humor, I was set at ease, and with such a large, enthusiastic audience, I quickly felt it easy to be at my best. The hour flew by, and my daughter and I were quickly swamped at our booth pretty much nonstop for the rest of the weekend.
In those early days, not many people knew of our company, Institute for Excellence in Writing, and I held conservative expectations for sales of our video seminars and books, especially in a state where I’d had little exposure at that time. Needless to say, our four suitcases of product sold almost instantly, and we went home with over a hundred back-orders. Not only did Florida parents laugh well, they were ready to invest — seriously — in the education of their children. I still remember the amazement in my daughter’s countenance as she totaled the orders for the day and realized that we had sold many times the total of any other convention to date. That night, we didn’t have to feel too bad about paying the price for a nice dinner at the Gaylord!
Since that first Convention a decade ago, I have been privileged to be invited back several times, and have found the same warm, enthusiastic, energetic response. I’ve been blessed with many meaningful and lasting friendships with Florida homeschool families. Even more, I’ve been able to observe more closely what is clearly one of the best state homeschool organizations in the country. Not only does the FPEA run a convention that appears to be flawlessly well organized, it has a local support network that should be a model for state organizations. With an informative newsletter and a great website, the FPEA actively supports a wide range of home educating families. This is an organization that truly fulfills the high calling for which it was established.
I heartily congratulate the FPEA on its 25th Convention, and sincerely look forward to once again being there in 2013. God bless Florida homeschoolers!
By Andrew Pudewa, Institute for Excellence in Writing