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First Annual Central Valley Influencers Conference

The first annual Central Valley Influencers Conference was hosted by the Clovis Veterans Memorial District (CVMD) on Saturday, March 12, 2022, and was also streamed via YouTube. The event opened a conversation between local educators and top military academies; allowing access to information and opportunities that otherwise may not have been known.

67 educators were welcomed into the Liberty Ballroom (the largest room in the Rex Phebus Memorial Building) where they were greeted by CVMD staff, service members, and volunteers from various organizations. Information booths outlined the room, allowing visitors to connect directly with representatives from each military entity.

The Clovis East High School JROTC opened the event by posting the colors and performing a rifle demonstration. Upon completion, the drill team received thunderous applause from conference-goers.

After a short program introduction and outline by emcee (District CEO) Lorenzo Rios, the group was led in the flag salute by Michelle Copher, from the office of Fresno County Superintendent of Schools.

Representatives from each branch academy were arranged in a panel style and gave a brief overview of their respective schools. Additionally, representatives from local ROTC options and enlisted accessions recruiters were present to discuss unique career and education opportunities outside of the academies.

Having those representatives participate was pivotal. They shared their own experiences of going through the process to attend the organization they now represent. In typical military fashion, they outperformed the expectation by bringing cadets currently attending those same institutions. Educators saw a deeper layer by hearing the personal testimony of people currently going through the process.

Conference attendees enjoyed a delicious lunch, prepared by Chef Bruce Staebler (US Coast Guard Veteran) from American Legion Post 147, while Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno spoke about her own military experience.

Thanks to cutting-edge technology in the Liberty Ballroom, local active duty service members currently serving abroad joined in to share their personal stories.

"Too many use the phrase: 'this is just Fresno' to lower expectations; however, I believe we should proudly proclaim 'this is Fresno' and remember the rich lineage that has made our great valley such an American jewel" said District CEO Lorenzo Rios.

After lunch, the conference took a field trip (via bus) to the 1106 Army National Guard for an unforgettable experience… a facility tour, and a ride aboard an H-60 Blackhawk helicopter. After a quick safety brief, educators were treated to a birds-eye view of the great campuses of our local schools in the Fresno/Clovis area, including the Fresno State Campus and the Fresno County Office of Education building downtown.

The 144th Air National Guard also provided a static-display F-15 Eagle fighter jet for attendees to get up close and personal with. Some attendees were amazed to learn technicians responsible for maintaining and repairing those aircraft are the same students who recently graduated from local high schools.

The air guard also provided a memorable experience when airport firefighting vehicles responded to an emergency on the airfield (unrelated to the event).

The day concluded with a tour of the Community Heritage Center, a museum that recognizes: the founders of Clovis, the origins of the Clovis way of life, and the role members of our community played in our nation's armed conflicts.

In a display of dedication to their students and careers, 67 educators voluntarily surrendered a Saturday to attend this conference. Their commitment inspires the leaders of tomorrow and was rewarded by Fresno Pacific University, which made available college credit hours for those in attendance.

Educators remarked they had never attended an event like this before and that it was eye-opening. Many said they knew about military opportunities, but they were not aware there were so many options available to students. They also learned how military education can help navigate common college pitfalls, like when a student has the grades, but not the funds to get a top-notch education.

Seeing the success of this event reinforces the need for it to be an annual conference. The Clovis Veterans Memorial District is already planning the 2023 Central Valley Influencers Conference, integrating the feedback received from those in attendance.

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