Connect Faith's 2018 Memory Makers

When seeking inspiration, we turn to a higher power. That holds true for these select individuals in the faith-based planning world.

2018 Memory Makers

When seeking inspiration, we typically turn to a higher power. That holds true for these select individuals who proactively make a difference in the faith-based planning world by seeking out new opportunities through conferences, meetings and events with purpose. The results are often unforgettable experiences for their attendees. We’re proud to recognize these Memory Makers.

William A. Blue IV
Director, The Potter’s House International Pastoral Alliance
Arlington, Texas

What I do: I direct PHIPA for Bishop T.D. Jakes. I advise and counsel pastors in areas of need and plan retreats for the membership and training.

How I got here: I was recommended to Bishop Jakes because of work with Promise Keepers, a large national men’s ministry famous in the 1990s. I was the Northwest regional director assisting in training large numbers of men and assisting in the pro football-size stadium gathering of men. I started working for PHIPA in 1999.

Greatest career accomplishments: I developed, established, planned and implemented the first PHIPA retreat in 2002, which is now held biennially. I also served and retired from the United States Army.

Impressive stats: I have increased the PHIPA retreat every year while halving the budget.

What I am working on: The Potter’s House is a cutting-edge ministry, and we work to get our PHIPA pastors continually ready to be the 21st-century pastors they are called to be. We work to demonstrate the use of technology and how to remain relative in the faith-based community.

Amanda Burton
Meeting Planner, Presbyterian Church in America
Lawrenceville, Georgia

What I do: As the meeting planner for the PCA, I plan our large annual convention hosting more than 3,000 people, which includes attendees, exhibitors and families, as well as smaller committee and board meetings through the year.

How I got here: I started as the meeting planner assistant for the PCA under the guidance of Sherry Eschenberg. What a blessing it was to work with Sherry! She is so knowledgeable, a great teacher and a wonderful mentor. Sherry eventually decided to move on from meeting planning. At that point, I interviewed and moved into the position.

Greatest career accomplishment: Organizing the PCA annual convention for more than 3,000 people takes a lot of moving parts, and it is so rewarding to watch our denomination convene and spend a week together.

What I’m working on: We are so excited this year to do some rebranding. Our publications will have a new look for our event. We are also adding new creative sponsorships to our exhibitor options—every little bit counts!

What I do outside of work: My husband and I just moved, so we love exploring our new city, trying new restaurants and playing golf.

Peter S. Maher
Sales Director, Religious and Faith Based Meetings, RCS Event Production
Herndon, Virginia

What I do: In my former job as COO of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, I was responsible for all the daily operations of NPM, a 5,000-plus-member nonprofit association. This included overall responsibility for all our meetings and events including site selection, vendor contracts, managing the local committee and more. At RCS, my job is to work with faith-based planners to realize their meeting dreams through quality, reasonably priced full-service event production.

Events I am proud of helping produce: I had the honor of being the production director for two papal masses: Pope Benedict at Nationals Park and Pope Francis at The Catholic University of America.

What I’m working on: I am now working with RCS Event Production out of Cleveland, Ohio. I am heading up RCS’ new religious and faith-based meetings division. RCS has a reputation for superior event production, and I have seen firsthand how they have been able to help NPM do so much while spending less than comparable companies. We have put together a strong team of technicians, all of whom “get” church.

Debbie McAlear
Administrator, Women Physicians in Christ
Bristol, Tennessee

Greatest career accomplishment: Pulling off my very first WPC annual conference five years ago on the day I was released from a six-week medical leave. It was a challenge to plan a conference I had never attended before from my “resting couch.”

Impressive stats: We’ve had an average 10 percent increase in annual conference attendance each year—almost doubling attendance the past 10 years. We have also increased our monthly e-newsletter mailing by 3,000-plus in the past five years.

Event I am proud of helping produce: We just held our annual conference at a charming culinary hotel and spa in Essex, Vermont, which we had outgrown before we arrived—a first for our conference. We faced all kinds of new issues with an oversold hotel, then contracting an overflow hotel, arranging shuttles to bring people back and forth, etc. But along with the hotel, we pulled it off.

What I’m working on: I’m really excited about next year, when our 2019 conference will celebrate our 25th year as a commission. The conference will be held at The Battle House Renaissance Hotel & Spa in Mobile, Alabama, a site we learned about at Connect Faith.

Lauren Moore
Senior Account Director, IMN Solutions 
Lexington, Kentucky

What I do: I work with more than 27 organizations to contract and negotiate more than 77 meetings all over the United States and parts of Europe and Canada. I currently book around 65 faith-based meetings ranging from 25 to 6,000 people.

How I got here: I started working in banquets at the age of 22 and worked my way up to senior sales manager within Hyatt Hotels. Two years ago, I took a position working for an association management company called IMN Solutions.

Greatest career accomplishment: I was named the 2018 MPI Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter Planner of the Year.

What I am working on: I am currently assisting a client in booking one of their large citywide conventions for 2023. Attendance is around 6,000 people, so finding the right city with affordable rates and space is proving to be a challenge.

What I do outside of work: I currently am the co-chair for the MPI MidAmerica Conference and handle all the logistics for future meetings. I am a member of RCMA, IAEE and MPI. In my free time I enjoy watching football (Ohio State and Cincinnati Bengals) and spending time with my family.

Laura Whitaker
Executive Director, Extra Special People
Athens, Georgia

How I got here: My journey with ESP began as a student volunteer during my time at the University of Georgia. In 2004, our executive director Martha Wyllie unexpectedly passed away, leaving ESP without a director and our summer camp at risk of closing. With support of our community, I was able to raise enough money ($50,000) to save the camp, and I was honored, when at the age of 19, Martha’s family chose me to become executive director.

Greatest career accomplishments: In 2015, we raised $3 million for our ESP gym and activities center. In the last year, we secured a multimillion-dollar grant for children with developmental disabilities and their families, and teamed up with architects to help shape the design of the country’s first fully accessible camp, Camp Hooray.

Event I am proud of helping produce: What started as a talent show for our ESP participants in a school auditorium has now grown into an annual fundraising event. Last year, Big Hearts raised more than $100,000 as thousands of families and fans sold out Athens’ Classic Center Theatre.