by Michelle Crooker
The HEAV Convention Exhibit Hall consists of nearly 102,000 square feet and more than 190 exhibitors! Who are the architects of this massive undertaking? Meet Bonnie and Cecil, Exhibit Hall coordinators for more than three years.
Homeschooling their four children for more than 20 years, Bonnie and Cecil attended their first convention when their eldest child (now 26) was still a baby. They lean heavily on the principles found in Proverbs 22, believing that they themselves are best equipped to train up their children—and with God’s grace and leadership, they are still going strong. Bonnie said that the best part of homeschooling are those “ah ha” moments when the kids finally fully grasp a concept.
Q: You have been attending the HEAV convention for quite a few years now. How have you seen it change?
A: Well, we started coming to the convention in 1992, so it’s been 22 years. Of course, the convention has gotten much, much, much bigger since then. We saw it outgrow the space in Virginia Beach and then relocate to Richmond—and even then it has expanded quite a bit!
Q: When you first started attending the convention, did you ever see yourself as the Exhibit Hall coordinators?
A: Both Cecil and I volunteer quite a bit, but I prefer to be in the background rather than in charge; it is ironic that we are in charge of the Exhibit Hall, but it just worked out that way. Cecil is great at the convention, and I mainly do all of the other coordinator things throughout the year. We jumped right into volunteering in 2011 with the job of Exhibit Hall coordinators. As to how we came to be in charge of the Exhibit Hall…my dear, dear friend Lauren Bell asked me to prayerfully consider it. I am happy to say that, even several years into the job, I still consider Lauren a friend! We have been homeschooling for a long time. As we are almost at the end of our homeschool journey, we talked and prayed and felt that God was letting us know that this is a great time and a great way for us to be able to give back to the homeschooling community.
Q: I don’t imagine that it is as easy as you make it look. Do you ever get a break?
A: Generally, we take July and August off from convention; the rest of the year, though, we are hard at work. Most importantly, we prayerfully consider each and every vendor to make sure that they are a good fit for HEAV and will be a blessing to our attendees.
All vendors are reviewed—even current ones—and the whole balance of the Exhibit Hall is considered. Then, in September, I send out invitations. Reminders go out in December, and paperwork is done all year. I have a big layout of the Exhibit Hall that I use to make sure everything fits nicely. My big crunch time comes in April when I field questions from the vendors and work with Exhibit, Inc. and the Richmond Convention Center. My job is to be there for the vendors so that the vendors can be there for the attendees.
We arrive on Wednesday of the convention week, and we start the heavy lifting on Thursday at 6 am, wrapping things up on Saturday night by 10 pm. It is a long few days, but without the vendors, it would be hard to have a convention!
Q: What does it take to run the Exhibit Hall? What are you looking for in volunteers?
A: It is quite a physical job. We start early in the morning, but everything has to be set up by 4 pm. We are in need of older teens or adults who can lift and carry during setup.
During the convention, we have a few football teams that have been great about helping out, but we still need people to be booth sitters or to work the book check. The time when we tend to run out of volunteers is Saturday after the UCS is over, so if you are looking for a place to volunteer, keep that in mind. Being a booth sitter is a great job: you are giving a lone vendor a much-needed opportunity to grab a bite to eat and stretch his legs.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you had to learn? Does your family get involved?
A: Well, the year that I accepted the job of the Exhibit Hall coordinator was the same year that the Exhibit Hall almost doubled in size. I had no idea how many man hours we would actually spend in the Exhibit Hall that first year. By the end of convention I definitely have sore feet! In addition to the blessing it is to the attendees, it’s also a blessing to me personally, because I have made some great friends among the vendors. They are a wonderful group of people! As I mentioned before, my husband Cecil helps me run the Exhibit Hall at convention. Our daughter, Caitlin, always comes as well. I couldn’t do it without them.
Author’s Note: Many thanks go to Bonnie for the time she spent with me. Bonnie is one of those amazing people who hates to talk about herself, but during our conversation, I discovered an interesting little tidbit. Those welcome bags you get at registration must be assembled, stuffed, packed, and transported to Richmond. Guess who handles that? That’s right: Bonnie and her family do it in their garage. This year, they are planning on 3000 bags. Thanks, Bonnie and Cecil!
Michelle, a Virginia native, currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. Active in Scouts, area homeschool groups, and with her family, she can be found on her blog, “Homeschooler on the Edge,” as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.