To everyone who made my LAC experience possible and amazing!
Looking back just over 8 weeks ago, I experienced the greatest honor of my professional life; second only to the value of the work I do each day for New Mexico’s children. I am writing to attempt to put into words what it meant to me to have been chosen to receive the Josephine Martin Policy Fellow Scholarship to attend the School Nutrition Association Legislative Action Conference in March of 2020. By doing so, I hope to extend the depth of my gratitude to all who contributed to my experience and assure you that I will apply the professional enrichment I gained at LAC to my ongoing career in school nutrition.
By submitting my scholarship essay last fall, I took a leap of faith. That may sound cliché, but I’m glad I was able to demonstrate to colleagues to never hesitate to seek an opportunity that will provide professional growth. Never fear that you might not be chosen. If I had not tried, I would not be writing this right now. As a highly regarded mentor advised me recently in a note of congratulations, “Stay hungry”. He meant, keep reaching for goals, keeping looking for challenges, and keep striving to grow professionally.
In attending LAC, I met and mingled with fellow professionals who were “hungry” to share. They shared their passion for what they do, their support for our common and unique challenges in student nutrition, kudos for each other for our successes, and ideas for every aspect of our work. But most of all, through every moment of each day in DC, I could feel the shared energy and pride of our true purpose at LAC; making a positive difference in school nutrition for our nation’s children through active participation in the democratic process of our United States. In that goal, the sharing and excitement was palpable.
During my days in Washington DC, I and the other “first-timers” from my state were taken under the wing of our New Mexico colleagues who had previously attended LAC, as well as embraced by our fellow professionals from states throughout our entire nation. The feeling of “team” was exhilarating! Our mission, through informative presentations, meetings and discussions, was to prepare to “Charge the Hill” on behalf of the children of our nation; to skillfully, passionately, & professionally present their needs for optimal school nutrition to our government officials on our final day in DC. As I type this now, getting a bit teary feeling that excitement once again, it brings me back to those magical 3 days that affirmed that I am important in my profession and I CAN make a difference. Those 3 days made me “hungry”; hungry to apply all that I have gathered throughout my career to help create positive change in the nutrition of our nation’s students.
SNA’s work and purpose resonates strongly with my professional endeavors and goals. My LAC experience only enhanced my desire to continue my work on the Board of the New Mexico SNA with a goal of serving student nutrition via many Board positions through the years, broadening my knowledge of our industry and our governmental process. Looking further forward, I hope to someday serve our national SNA. As I entered the offices of our Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill, and we presented information and justification for our “asks” for change, I was changed as an American. I no longer felt small. I felt significant in that I could in fact play a role, even if on just that one day, in improving the wellbeing of our nation’s children through legislation. It was an honor beyond belief. It made me “hungry” to work even harder to feed the children who are hungry, by becoming active in our government processes. And who knows… maybe someday, I will find myself running for a local political office, … because I wrote a scholarship essay, and was chosen to attend the SNA LAC, and learned that I can be a part of the change that takes place on Capitol Hill, and it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life .
And so, thank you all, for everything I was able to express above. Each of you made it all possible. I apologize it took me some time to compose this. The past 8 weeks have seemed like a year in our COVID world, and my days have been overflowing with both personal and professional needs. I hope this finds each of you, and your loved ones, healthy and safe. If this pandemic has touched your lives in a painful way, my heart goes out to you. May we all join again, in person, in the excitement of our endeavors, someday soon. If we cannot be together in person in the near future, I look forward to the ingenuity and creativity our industry will bring forth so that we can continue our regional and national work through exciting technological approaches. Who knows – such advances might open-up the world of networking and conferences for those of our colleagues for whom conference attendance seemed forever out of reach!
Be well, and may all of us in school nutrition “stay hungry”, so that our nation’s students are not.
With deep gratitude,
Laurie Allocca is Nutrition Services Manager at New Mexico School for the Deaf, and the 2020 recipient of the Josephine Martin National Policy Fellow. Learn more about SNF conference scholarships and how you can apply here.