Speakers

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Conference Keynote Speaker
Ron Suskind
Pulitzer-Winning Journalist and Author
Founder, Sidekicks

Ron Suskind is a Pulitzer-winning journalist, bestselling author, and the founder of Sidekicks.

Ron's latest bestseller, Life, Animated(2014), chronicles his family's twenty-year journey raising and connecting to their autistic son. The Suskinds are also the subject of an award-winning documentary feature of the same name (2016). Their story has driven activism and research about the compensatory strengths of those with autism and others who are "differently-abled" due to distinctive neurology or sociocultural backgrounds. Ron's company, Sidekicks, is leading efforts to build a next generation of augmentative technologies to lift and support these communities.

Ron's other works include Confidence Men (2011), about the fall of the U.S. economy and the presidency of Barack Obama; The Way of the World (2008), about the forces fighting the global "hearts and minds" struggle at a time when awesomely destructive weapons are available to the common man; The One Percent Doctrine (2006), about the U.S. government's frantic improvisation to fight a new kind of war after 9/11; The Price of Loyalty (2004), about the inner workings of the American government and Presidency of George W. Bush; and A Hope in the Unseen (1998), a nonfiction narrative that helped redefine national debates on race, class and achievement.

Ron often appears on network television and has been a contributor for The New York Times Magazine and Esquire. Ron was the Wall Street Journal's senior national affairs reporter from 1993 until his departure in 2000, and won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. He currently lives in Cambridge, MA, with his wife, Cornelia Kennedy Suskind, and lectures about narrative and justice at Harvard Law School.

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Closing Keynote Speaker: Vernon Brown
Happiness & Success Coach
Founder, What's Your Happi?

Vernon Brown is a happiness and success coach who has helped more than 10,000 people turn happiness into a tangible commodity that is non-negotiable. His philosophy is simple: there is no magic key - most people evade happiness subconsciously as they are caught up in the minutiae of life.

Vernon talks with those who are challenged, and together he helps people get the life they never dreamed possible started for them. Then he keeps the momentum going in that direction. With support, confidentiality, and no judgment, Vernon opens the door to the possibilities.

He uncovered this vocation when he finally, well into his adult years, understood the value of his own happiness. Many people experience the wonder of childhood wonder, imagination and innocence, only to lose it as they grow older. Vernon did not.

Before his age reached double-digits, Vernon experienced varying degrees of death, overdose, and abuse. His mother's lifestyle - a loving, but self-serving one - caused their family to relocate often, alienating relationships with family and close friends. Isolation was the standard. He felt those family circumstances caused people to look down on him. Vernon describes his childhood-self as "awkward, overweight, and out of place."

He tells an anecdote that captures his childhood experience of feeling broken and invisible: "As the school bus pulled in front of my house to let me off, I noticed all my things lying in the street. We'd been evicted, and now everyone knew it. Everyone laughed at me. I wanted to disappear."

He turned the blame inward: "I could not understand what I could have done to deserve this life. I hated myself. Not my mom - I hated me. And when you shatter a vase on the floor, it takes time to pick up the pieces and put it together. Even then, it can be more fragile than it was to begin with. "

But Vernon eventually moved in with his grandmother, when he learned something he'd never known: how to be a child. Into his adult years, he remained guarded, distrustful, and - in his own words - still awkward.

Things turned around when he turned 20 and realized something critical to happiness: being happy is not something life gives you; you have to seize it for yourself and control it.

Vernon travels the world to tell this story to help people realize that circumstances don't control the power to claim happiness. His experience learning the value of happiness has awakened his passion of helping others find that freedom for themselves.

See your potential. Move out of crisis mode, and be present. Stop seeing challenges; find the good.

Discover your happi - and claim it as your own.

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Preconference Speaker: Nancy Toscano, Ph.D.
Chief Program & Strategy Officer
United Methodist Family Services

Nancy Toscano is currently the Chief Program and Strategy Officer for United Methodist Family Services. Nancy received her bachelor's degree in social work from Siena College and her master's in social work from New York University. She is a licensed clinical social worker and a graduate of VA-LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) program from the Medical College of Virginia. Nancy received a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University, with a concentration in nonprofit leadership. She has several years of nonprofit experience in the United States, England, and Malaysia working with high-risk children and families in a variety of roles.

Nancy has been a Family Assessment and Planning Team (FAPT) representative and is a current Community Policy and Management Team (CPMT) chair for Richmond City. She has also been an adjunct faculty member in the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University since 2007. Nancy's experience, interest, and focus has been on change management, innovation, organizational culture, metrics analysis, and strategic thinking. She has also been trained in Innovation Engineering and the Gazelle's method of strategic execution.

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