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NCRA members fly in for Hill Day, sharpen advocacy skills at 2024 Boot Camp event

64 NCRA members from as far away as Alaska pose for the annual Hill Day picture in front of the United States Capitol

Usually when there are three presidents at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., it’s Inauguration Day; but this last week, NCRA’s Hill Day was led by Immediate Past President Jason T. Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC; President Kristin M. Anderson, M.A., RPR, FCRR; and President-Elect Keith Lemons, FAPR, RPR, CRR (Ret.). NCRA’s Hill Day is the culmination of two jam-packed days of guest speakers, seminars, breakout sessions, and mock committee meetings. NCRA members from as far away as Alaska made the trek to the Association’s annual Legislative & Leadership Boot Camp at the Embassy Suites in Alexandria, Va., just across the river from our nation’s capital.

“To say I learned something would be an understatement,” said Jennifer Vaillancourt, RPR, a freelancer from Winthrop, Mass. “The experience is invaluable. I will be able to take the skills I learned and apply them to all aspects of my job and life. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Members were scheduled to meet with the offices of 125 legislators. A total of 64 NCRA members attended from 31 different states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada. It was a beautiful spring-like day on the Hill with the sun shining, cherry blossoms approaching peak bloom, and plenty of pollen in the air to the surprise of attendees and staffers alike.

For the second consecutive year, Sonja L. Reeves, RDR, CRR, of Alaska was able to meet with her Senator, Lisa Murkowski, and even get a picture after advocating for the creation of a taskforce that addresses the integration of artificial intelligence in the United States Judicial System. Last year Reeves managed to meet with her entire Congressional delegation and their staff on the same day, a rare feat for any American.

“Of my five years at NCRA, I truly believe that this was our best Boot Camp yet!” shared Jocelynn A. Moore, Esq., NCRA’s Director of Government Relations. “Our attendees used the skills that they learned during our training to apply it to their meetings on Hill Day and successfully advocated for their professions and NCRA’s new federal AI legislation.”

NCRA Treasurer and captioner Cathy Penniston, RPR, CRI, of Waukee, Iowa, joined two fellow Hawkeye Staters on Hill Day to meet with staff in Senators Chuck Grassley’s and Joni Ernst’s offices as well as with Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra. “Mariannette used to be my neighbor,” Penniston shared on a walk from the Senate to the House office buildings.

For the previous two days, attendees had gone through an intense 48 hours of learning, including how to make elevator pitches and the hard ask for a sponsor as well as the power of name badges. They also received insight from lobbying professionals and even the founder of StenoMasters. This year’s keynote remarks came in the form of a presentation from NCRA STRONG Committee Founder and Chair Sue A. Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, and member Stacey E. Raikes, RMR, CRR, on the rising pitfalls of digital and AI in stenography.

The two-hour-long presentation highlighted the five-year ongoing effort to research the dangers of digital court reporting and AI on America’s judiciary. The captive audience was encouraged to take pictures of the various slides and to scrutinize their own workplace in an effort to safeguard justice.

Joshua Edwards, RDR, CRR, CRC, of StenoMasters, an online community for all stenographic court reporters, captioners, and students to practice the art of public speaking, also spoke the following day. His topic? Your most embarrassing moment in the workplace, which elicited a handful of experiences shared by attendees that left colleagues roaring with laughter and a sense of deepened camaraderie. First-time attendees were asked about their experience and the consensus was consistent. “The bucket list experience I didn’t know I needed on my bucket list!” wrote Gwen Bass, a court reporter who traveled from Washington state. “Learning how the lobbying world works was fascinating, and immersing myself in the inner workings of the Senate and House world was energizing.”

Tina Nelson, RMR, CRR, of Omaha, Neb., shared how she was hesitant to make the trek halfway across the country. “Although I was hesitant to sign up, I’m glad I listened to my inner voice to just do it,” Nelson said when asked about her experience. “It was truly the experience of a lifetime, and I definitely have no regrets.”

After a day of crisscrossing Capitol Hill, members ended the day at Hunan Dynasty for the debrief and shared the success and shortcomings of their advocacy. NCRA Executive Director Dave Wenhold, CAE, PLC, went table by table to hear from members on each of their experiences. A majority were positive and only a few shared questionable or indifferent interactions with legislative staffers.

“In every Hill meeting that I sat in on with attendees, I was impressed by their ability to advocate articulately and succinctly. I would have never known that our attendees weren’t actual professional lobbyists! I am truly proud of our attendees and their effective lobbying efforts on Hill Day, and I look forward to seeing them become expert grassroots lobbyists in their state legislatures,” concluded Moore.

“Did everyone have a good day?” Wenhold asked the room to which an enthusiastic “Yes!” erupted with applause.

“Alright then, make sure to follow up with your meetings next week ….”

Attendees made the trek back to Garfield Circle to head back to the hotel and conclude another annual NCRA event. View the 2024 NCRA Leadership & Legislative Boot Camp photo album on Facebook or search #NCRADC across different platforms to view attendee posts.