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I am sitting at a breakfast table in a restaurant in the Mandalay Bay hotel. It’s very early in the morning on the second day of the Exhibitor Show. I am surrounded by eight others at the table – senior executives from a wide variety of industry companies. Some are my direct competitors, some my best suppliers, some I’ve never met until I sat down at this table.

We were drawn to this meeting first by the passionate pleas of the leader of this group – a man who not only leads this organization with energy and drive, but I suspect does the same in his real job as president of his company. But we are also drawn into this by something much bigger, an internal passion – a burning desire to do something – that developed over a period of time and finally reached the point where action was the only natural next step.

I am sitting with the board of directors and committee chairs of the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association Foundation. This is the charitable arm of the EDPA, our industry’s professional association. The EDPA Foundation was formed in 2002 by executives from all segments of the industry with a common goal: The heartfelt desire to reach out to our peers in their time of need. We have three primary goals:

  1. Provide financial support for the families of industry members when tragedy strikes. The Randy Smith Memorial Golf Classic and a number of other local events raise funds to aid industry members and their families suffering emotional and financial hardships.
  2. Award scholarships to engage creative thinkers who will be the trailblazers and leaders of tomorrow. The EDPAF Scholarship Fund awards scholarships for higher education for families of industry members.
  3. Ensure the future of the foundation and its good work through educational initiatives and professional community development.

To date, over 36 scholarships have been provided to college students and financial aid has been provided to families in need, including during the recent Haiti crisis and hurricanes in Alabama.  We have helped terminally ill children with our Exhibit 4 Smiles program and provided scholarships to both Bemidji State University and Fashion Institute of Technology in their exhibit design programs. All of this is done while maintaining a strong financial position for the foundation.

The members of the foundation board and the recipients of our programs value both time and money. One thing to be perfectly clear on: Over 90 percent of the funds donated to the foundation are used directly for the benefit of the recipients of our programs. The organization, its board members, committee chairs and event staff all contribute their time and effort on a voluntary basis.

For me, contributing to the EDPA Foundation is a powerful way to say “thank you.” I have had a wonderful 30-year run in this industry, and this is the way that I find best allows me to give back, or “pay it forward.”

For every one of us, there is that point along our career journey when we realize that we truly have been fortunate. It is at that moment when we look back and realize that we owe much of our success to others who have helped us along the way. That’s when we look for ways to contribute. For those who have come before us, and for those who are yet to come, that is exactly why the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association Foundation exists.

The EDPA Foundation exists to help our industry. We believe it is our calling to provide support for our industry members and their families through financial assistance during crisis, through scholarships for creative thinkers and leaders, and through education of our people.

We believe the EDPA Foundation is driven by the interests and passions of our members to create a culture where concern and caring for our families leads to a stronger and more vital industry and a greater contribution to the economy of our nation. It is the heart and soul of our industry.

What keeps me coming back to these early morning board meetings? The idea that if we could get the message of this foundation’s good works out to the hundreds and thousands of industry members who don’t have a clue about what we are doing, that we might just be able to create a groundswell of support and make a huge impact on the lives of lots of people in our industry.

Is it time for you to be a part of the story? Visit www.edpa.com/foundation.

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the trade show industry for 30 years, both as a corporate trade show manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the trade show and event marketing firm Reveal, and can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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