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My dream is to establish an advocate’s academy. The ultimate name isn’t as important as the mission. It will train existing and future leaders in law, medicine, faith, government, law enforcement, education, caregiving and more. The goal is to develop leadership skills, discuss ethics, improve professionalism, and expand the knowledge base for attendees in their respective professions. To the extent possible, it will encourage attendees to share creative ideas rather than hiding them like a secret formula. The overriding presumption is that more cooperation and idea sharing is better and that together we can make the pie larger rather than fighting over existing pieces. The academy will be person focused, but will allow for business training since people run businesses and people benefit from businesses.

The academy I’m dreaming of will be located in Northwest Georgia, specifically in Gilmer County. It will be located on a campus of at least 100 acres, although more would be better. The facility will include a conference center, small group meeting areas and guest housing. The goal is to provide free or low cost (meaning at-cost) education to professionals and members of the public who have leadership roles. Each meeting will provide continuing education credits for leaders who need them.

The academy will be built as a destination resort. The goal is provide a location people “want to” travel to and stay at so it is easier to attract high level speakers and attendees without paying honorariums that significantly increase the cost to other attendees. It will be built as a get-away in a forested area, but close enough to civilization to allow attendees to interact with the community. Ideally, it would be within ten to fifteen minutes from Ellijay or Blue Ridge or both. Locating it within reach of town will make it easier to attract staff and will allow community businesses to participate. For example, all meals served as part of the conference will be catered by local vendors. Locating it near town also means its within reach of emergency services.

The Campus

Ideally the campus will be large enough to create seperation from attendees and distractions that prevent them from growing professionally. It will be a peaceful setting designed to allow attendees to relax, recharge, and return to the world prepared to help others. There will be walking trails, a flower garden, a creek or lake with fishing. It will be near a golf course, but there will not be a golf course on the property for the sole purpose of preserving the isolated feel of the campus. It will have a pool (indoor and outdoor), basketball court with second level indoor walking track, a workout area and spa. The feel of the entire campus will scream mountain top experience. Since many attendees will bring family members, the campus will have an activities director and concierge to assist families with locating any activities not on the campus (such as rafting, horse back riding, etc.).

The Conference Center

The conference center will have a main hall that seats at least 250 people with the ability to divide the room into two meeting areas of approximately 125 each. There will be at least 10 break out rooms for smaller meetings. Each side of the main hall will have windows allowing for catered meals prepared by local businesses. There will also be an area among the break out rooms for catered meals. The entire facility will include free internet access for attendees and each room will have state of the art audio/video equipment so programs can be live-streamed and recorded for playback. In addition to break out rooms, there will be areas designed to encourage attendees to meet casually and exchange ideas. The entire campus will be designed to be ADA compliant.

Programs

The programs will include cutting edge curriculum designed to push ideas forward for professionals attending each program. Although the academy would develop ways to assist speakers in marketing their interests, programs would be substantive rather than superficial. Each program should give attendees knowledge they can take home and use. We don’t just want to tell someone how to fish; we want to show them, answer questions they might have while they are learning and, where possible, give them better fishing equipment. Leadership isn’t just about leadership training; it also includes actually leading in the expansion and dissemination of knowledge. Program staff will seek top level innovative speakers similar to those who presented in the Special Needs Roundtable, except that most programs will include one day of presentations and one “un-program” day designed to have attendees share thoughts and experiences. Staff will accept proposals from various faith, education, law enforcement and other groups seeking to hold their own conferences at the conference center. Proffered programs will be considered based on availability and whether they promote community development, specifically, whether the program would enhance the lives of individuals living in the community. Priority for weekend program space will be given to small business professionals and employees to limit down-time during the work week. The goal will be to keep the facility full and develop programming all week, every week. Program materials will be available to attendees and a library of past programs will be available at cost to those who could not attend. Another reason for creating a desireable destination resort is that all speakers will be asked to waive or significantly reduce honorariums and license distribution of recordings and materials to non-attendees who would benefit from the program.

Guest Areas

The primary reasons for having guest rooms are to highten the experience, create separation from every day distractions and encourage attendance by top level speakers and others who could share ideas. We want attendees focused on the program. We also want people to want to come and look forward to coming. To that end, each room will be double sized and will include a sitting area, work table large enough to double as a dinner table for guests who eat in, coffee bar, sink, bathroom with shower and tub. It will be furnished at a level that causes attendees and family members to say “Wow!” when they walk into their room. Each floor will include at least one public “living room” where attendees can meet and talk after hours. The lobby area will have a business center similar to a UPS store (we might invite UPS to run it).

Meals

The campus will be designed to support local restaurants. To that end, there will be a moderately sized dining hall catered by local businesses. This will provide extra income to participating businesses, but will also allow them to show case their establishments to attendees. The kitchen will be large enough to allow for private or celebrity chefs to prepare meals for programs wanting that experience.

Staff

All staff will be paid at a level designed to encourage loyalty and retention. Salary levels will be set at a level that prevents staff from living in poverty and that attracts talented people. They will be provided with health insurance, retirement benefits and will receive tuition assistance if they want to pursue a degree. Staff will be trained using the Ritz-Carlton leadership program.

Attendee Cost

The cost for attendees would range between free and at-cost. The academy will be a non-profit entity. The goal will be to keep costs so low that attendance is not a problem for those who need training. The same would apply for those attending via live-stream or viewing recorded programs. While virtual education might be easier to provide at cost, there is value in bringing people together, sharing ideas formally and informally, and giving attendees a chance to recharge.

How Will This Be Built

Right now, this idea is a dream. If I win the lottery, then it’s a no-brainer. However, since the odds are against me, it’s going to require buy-in from others and public or private funding. We take a leap of faither and develope a name and not-for-profit to receive donations. As money comes in, we will begin with land acquisition, then designing and building the conference facility, then moving on to guest rooms and amenities. Funding will also be required to maintain the property and to off-set any funding shortfalls (e.g., payroll) while we learn what it means to provide programming “at cost.” Funding will also be required to fund scholarships so we can provide free access to attendees without funds to pay their own way. Ideally there will be an endowment to maintain, improve on and expand the dream.

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