When people get to know me, it usually comes up that I’ve been a long-time volunteer and member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. I’m a very public and unabashed cheerleader for the SCAA, and as the annual Event comes up, I find myself answering inquiries about how new attendees might best spend their time and money at the show. I’m often asked to rate the relative merits of one course over another, or to give advice on the best allocation of an attendee’s time during their visit. I’m always happy to answer these inquiries, but I usually have a few questions of my own. Such as:
- Will you be attending the Keynote and Opening Reception?
- Have you thought of volunteering for one of the classes being offered, instead of participating as a student?
- Have you made time in your schedule for the social events?
- Have you made a list of other volunteers or instructors that you would like to meet?
- Have you read through the past year’s issues of the SCAA Chronicle, so that you can see the work the SCAA is doing and with whom and what programs or initiatives you might want to learn more about?
- How do you plan to give some of your expertise or passion to the other Event attendees?
Some of these questions might be intimidating for more recent SCAA members, but my point in asking is to remind these individuals that the SCAA is a mutual benefit association, and thus by definition it requires more than passive attendance. Members join the SCAA to learn, but also to share, to be inspired, and to inspire others, to meet new business partners, and even to make friends that can last a lifetime. I met two of my best friends during my first SCAA show in 1998. Does your Boston itinerary include room for that?
The theme of this edition of The Chronicle is community. The concept of “building community” has been a cornerstone of the SCAA mission since its inception. The SCAA’s long-term dedication to community building has resulted in more pathways to becoming a part of the specialty coffee community than its founders probably ever thought possible. Each article in this issue will give you some great ideas and tools to tie yourself into our community, and also advise you how to use these ties to your advantage. Community can take many forms – in person, online, networking, and volunteering. There are lots of ways to participate, but the common denominator is that it requires your effort, and your willingness to put in the time and be open to the experience.
For me, the part of our community that I’m most passionate about is volunteering. I always advocate for new members to volunteer, since the benefits always outweigh the effort. Over my years of involvement with SCAA, I’ve taken scores of wonderful classes, and left with reams of notes and useful tips, but the BIG things, the important things, I learned as a volunteer. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to spend time with experienced experts in a way that I never would have done as a “regular” attendee. As a volunteer instructor, I’ve met hundreds of people from around the world, and been enriched by their knowledge and experience. As an SCAA member who loves to network, I’ve met people that are not only interesting, but who have become key allies in my career development. All it takes is your willingness to be open to the experience!
Louis Pasteur once said, “Luck favors the prepared”. Your experience with the SCAA will be similar. Do your homework. Be open. Share. Ask questions. Give of your time—and be ready for what happens next! Remember that your experience as an SCAA member is what you make of it. See you in Boston!
Rob Stephen is a Senior Trader for InterAmerican Coffee in Hopedale, MA. He is a past president of the SCAA and a past president and board member of Coffee Kids, a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives and livelihoods of coffee growing families. 2013 will be Rob’s fifteenth year as an SCAA volunteer.