Convention Center Staff Volunteers at Monarch School Event

A simple handshake, eye contact and the art of carrying a conversation: that was the lesson of the day on Tuesday, February 7, as members of the San Diego Convention Center staff volunteered time for a very special lesson over lunch.

The 10th Annual "Speak for Treats," an interactive, real-life lesson in communication skills was held at Cityfront Terrace, just across the street from the convention center. About 20 students from San Diego Monarch School, which educates and serves San Diego youth impacted by homelessness, met with adult volunteers for a communications skill building experience.

Among the participants this year were Executive Vice President and General Manager Karen Totaro, Centerplate General Manager Bobby Ramirez, Executive Director of Communications Barbara Moreno, Public Affairs Manager Rita de la Fuente and Lead Graphic Designer Oliver Yambao.

The event was organized by retired teacher and San Diego resident Richard Wright, who works with 8th Grade Monarch High School Teacher Dana Harwood in helping the students learn valuable lessons that are vital to their success as young adults.

"The event was first held around Halloween 10 years ago, which is where the name came from," said Wright. "Most of these students have never had the opportunity or have a mentor teach them everyday conversation skills. I think the volunteers have a chance to inspire these students in a way they never imagined."

Rotating through conversations over the course of an hour, students shook hands with other volunteers. Then they shared further conversations over lunch, provided by the convention center's in-house caterer Centerplate.

"It was an honor to host lunch for such a talented group of students and the organizers of this event," said Ramirez. "The biggest privilege was having the opportunity to meet our future leaders and equip them with some tools to succeed as they start their educational journey. "

Wright came up with the speaking program a decade ago when he approached Harwood to collaborate.

"Ten years ago I was introduced to Dick Wright and he offered to volunteer to teach a weekly class in communication skills to my middle school students at Monarch," she said. "With Mr. Wright's guidance, my students learned the importance of eye contact, a firm handshake, appropriate body language and the skills of asking questions, listening and paraphrasing."

The inaugural event took place at the San Diego Convention Center. Wright said he expected just some simple sandwiches, but convention center staff served an elegant formal lunch, and the partnership has existed ever since.

"All my students felt so special that day," Harwood said. "Some of those students, who are now 23-24 years old, still mention that day when they come back to visit Monarch.

This year, the students wrote a reflection about their experience. Here are some quotes from their writing:

  • "I got to meet a lot of interesting people and I felt confident because I talked to five different adults in an hour." Gillio
  • "I learned that you have to keep eye contact to show that you're listening. The skills that Mr. Wright taught us really did help me a lot." Shawna
  • "Before, I was so nervous because I never talked to an adult face-to-face who I didn't know. After the activity I felt awesome that I was able to do it and also proud of myself." Alex
  • "I felt like I learned a new skill in life and I learned about not being scared when you talk to new people." Manny
Barbara Moreno's picture
Posted by Barbara Moreno, on February 21, 2017
Meeting Planners, News and Developments

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