What We Experienced at the NFDA Professional Women’s Conference

Savannah, Georgia was a busy place April 28-30, 2024 for women in the funeral professional attending the NFDA Professional Women’s Conference. Homesteaders was a proud sponsor with several Homesteaders employees in attendance.

We talked to a few attendees about their experience at the conference, and the feedback was unanimous: inspiration and excitement overflowed, and the conference was invaluable to continue in the service we all remain passionate about in the funeral profession. Keep reading for what attendees experienced at the conference, who they met and what they will carry with them long after the last day of the conference.

What Happened at the Conference

With an overall uplifting and inspiring energy, the conference buzzed with support and mentorship among the women in attendance. Terri Bordenkircher, Homesteaders Regional Director, mentioned some highlights, “Of course, the speakers were amazing. But each day all the attendees met for breakfast and lunch. I enjoyed sitting at a different table each time and connecting with many great women from all over the country.” NFDA Professional Womens Conference Photo 2

Laurie Covington, Homesteaders SVP-Enterprise Strategic Planning, felt a strong sense of momentum and excitement throughout the conference. She shared highlights from her experience, “One of the best parts of events like these is the ability to connect with others in the profession. I really enjoyed times each day during breaks or planned connection points where I could meet or reconnect with others.”  

“Gathering together each morning was a highlight. It was powerful to be in a room full of women in this profession; it was an electric feeling,” Jessica Baum, Director of Aftercare Response at Elevia, said. “Talking about why we began working in this profession and what has made us stay helped bring perspective and uplift one another, reaffirming that all had a place and were welcome.”

Homesteaders sponsored the Monday lunch. Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders Vice President-Marketing Communications, shared a short introduction preceding the lunch that was a conference highlight for Laurie, “Danielle shared a story about getting ready for the trip and some of the costs associated with being a woman in business.”

Homesteaders and For Grief co-sponsored the afternoon speaker, Dr. Sara Murphy. Dr. Murphy spoke about recognizing and responding to suicide risk among funeral professionals, which included discussion and education about self-care and healthy mental health practices for professionals in the deathcare space. Dr. Murphy also emphasized the importance of identifying warning signs and employing prevention and intervention within business and professional communities.

Terri attended Dr. Murphy’s talk and was struck by the segment. “Dr. Murphy was a dynamic speaker,” Terri said. “The information she provided was difficult to hear at times, but much needed. I am certain that each of us came away more prepared to recognize and respond to those who may be contemplating suicide. This segment was one of my favorites.” 

Jessica also valued Dr. Murphy’s talk. “Dr. Murphy was a brilliant speaker,” Jessica said. “Suicide is not an easy topic but is prevalent in our work and personal lives and needs to be openly discussed. Dr. Murphy created an inclusive and safe atmosphere, which allowed us to have important talks, ask questions and gain knowledge.

What We Loved

Attendees experienced many highlights over the three days of the conference, but a few stood out.

Vera Stewart, Southern Cooking Host, Entrepreneur, Cookbook Author and Mentor, spoke on “Leading with Excellence and Compassion.” She shared her life story and “illustrated how setbacks can morph into significant milestones in one's professional journey, underscoring the pivotal role mentors play as guiding beacons along the way.”

“Meeting Very Vera and receiving one of her cookbooks was a highlight for me,” Terri mentioned. “Hearing about her journey throughout the years was inspiring. She left every woman in the conference knowing that they too could maximize their impact through excellence, compassion and perseverance.”

Since the conference was held in Savannah, Georgia, attendees enjoyed exploring the gems of the city. “The history of Savannah is so interesting. The architecture of the buildings and homes in the area shared that history,” Terri noted. “The dining was also impressive. Lots of options to do in town and along the waterfront. It was a truly wonderful adventure!”NFDA Professional Womens Conference Photo 3

“The city was magical,” Jessica noted. “It is beautiful and walkable with delicious food and unique places to network and socialize. It was so fun to explore the city and enjoy the company of the women from the conference. It was easy to connect with each other and everyone was so welcoming!”

Who We Met

Among the many connections made at the conference, Homesteaders attendees had the chance to meet conference speaker Dr. Ruth Bedell, Founder and Lead Consultant at Bedell Consulting. She spoke on “Advocating for Yourself: Assertiveness Training” at the conference on Monday.

Terri mentioned, “We were able to get to know Ruth in a much deeper way at dinner and then had the honor of hearing her speak at the conference the next morning. Ruth works with the Independent Florida Funeral Directors Association, a Homesteaders partner. Connecting with Ruth was another highlight of the conference!”

Terri also enjoyed listening to conference speaker, Lesley Witter, MPA, CAE, NFDA Senior Vice President-Advocacy, whose speech was titled, “Master the Art of Advocacy.”

“All I can say is she made it fun! Her style of delivery, personal stories and palpable grit and determination kept us on the edge of our seats,” Terri remembered. “Hearing how she advocates and lobbies for funeral service each day was so interesting. She also expressed the importance of making our voices heard and remembering that even one voice joined with many can make a huge difference.” 

Lesley’s speech also impacted Laurie, “Lesley talked about some of the legislative challenges facing the industry, a lot of which I was not aware of prior to the meeting.”

“I loved learning more about what is happening in Washington D.C. with laws, bills and congress,” Jessica noted. “I also loved hearing her stories and experiences as a woman in NFDA, her advocacy and how important it is for all of us to be involved and use our voice.”   

Jessica also loved each conversation she shared with fellow attendees, no matter how short, “Even if it was only a ten-minute conversation, I had too many meaningful conversations to count. Throughout the conference, I was able to intimately converse with two women about their personal losses, how they were impacted and what they started in their communities based on their experiences.”

What We Learned

Over the course of the conference, Terri mentioned that all speakers shared a common message, “Find your voice, stand up for what you believe in and persevere.”  NFDA Professional Womens Conference Photo 4

Jessica said, “Lisa Baue, a conference sponsor, said the first morning, ‘I’ve met some of my closest friends at this conference.’ I had no doubt I would meet amazing women but I wasn’t sure how that would translate into friendships. I now believe her statement.”

“I will carry with me all of the strong connections and friendships I made with the women at the conference,” Jessica mentioned. “The tears and laughter I shared with others as we talked about our jobs and lives were unforgettable. We all live in different parts of the country and have different backgrounds, but we were united in our core beliefs about making a difference and caring for humanity.”

Laurie noted that the number of women in the funeral profession is growing, “The energy and investment of these women is also growing. I’m excited to see how the funeral profession continues to change with the increasing influence of these women.”  

There was one phrase that Terri said everyone talked about, “The shirts that Homesteaders attendees wore to the conference said it all: ‘As Strong as the Woman Next to Me.’ This conference supported that sentiment fully.”  

Did you attend the NFDA Professional Women’s Conference? Share a highlight in the comments below!

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