The 4th edition of WordCamp Grand Rapids was held last weekend at Grand Valley State University’s downtown Pew Campus. After a brief hiatus following previous events in 2012, 2013, and 2014, the WordCamp is back in action with first-time lead organizer Cate DeRosia at the helm.
Tickets sold out shortly before the event and the vast majority of them were local to Michigan. DeRosia estimates that 40% came from Grand Rapids and 60% of attendees were within an hour radius. She published the camp’s details with a local events webpage and set up a Facebook page to increase local awareness. Organizers also received contacts from the WordPress dashboard events widget and the local MeetUp announcement.
Despite being a relatively small WordCamp with 144 attendees, organizers had enough speaker submissions to fill three tracks with topics ranging from development and design to freelance best practices and scaling a business. Attendees characterized the organizers as “connectors” who have a natural gift for helping people and businesses get to know each other. DeRosia said one of the unique things about the lower Michigan WordPress community is its dedication to helping each other succeed with WordPress.
“The core group in Grand Rapids, and really across the lower half of Michigan, is highly experienced and sincerely dedicated to helping people,” DeRosia said. “No one is fighting to be top dog on the pile. No one’s gloating. Meetups and WordCamps are ways to give back, to encourage and grow others in the community. The focus is on the opportunities that WordPress can provide anyone and a willingness to share their years of hard earned experience to help others succeed.”
DeRosia said the organizing team’s goal was to provide a little something for everyone and “an opportunity to learn what can be done and take that home to foster and grow at each individual’s own pace.” The event was marked by the friendliness and enthusiasm of the volunteers and provided several breaks and social times for attendees to exchange ideas and build relationships with others in the industry.
4yrs ago I attended #wcgr and knew no one. Attended yesterday and it's all handshakes, high fives and hugs. #community #wcfamily 😄
— Kyle Maurer (@MrKyleMaurer) August 27, 2017
WordCamp Grand Rapids had 13 volunteers who gave up their Saturday, including all of the organizers, and all of them were hands on the day of event. DeRosia’s teenage daughter Sophia, who has been volunteering at camps for years, also joined by contributing the event’s wapuu design and helping with operations. In the short interview below she describes how she came up with the idea for the wapuu and why she enjoys getting involved in WordPress events.
DeRosia had just four months to get the event organized and said she relied heavily on information and resources from other WordCamp organizers in Michigan. She stayed with the same venue from previous camps, which she said met her criteria for making things convenient for attendees: lunch was easily available, parking was easy to find (and free), and it was within a reasonable walking distance of hotels and the after party. The camp had no issues getting local sponsorships.
“Our sponsors were amazing,” DeRosia said. “We came in late to the schedule and still had the sponsorship we needed with out any problems. It helps that as an organizing group we’ve created friendships in the community, but most of our sponsorship was local or regional which really helped cement the idea that another WordCamp in the area has value.”
DeRosia said with the number of people who left talking about the next event, she anticipates there will be another WordCamp Grand Rapids in 2018 and she hopes to help again as lead organizer.
“I knew tackling the ‘unknowns’ of this first one (and doing it in a short time frame) was going to be emotionally difficult for me personally, but I also realized that most of what I was planning for this year would simply be able to move over into next year,” DeRosia said. “In a sense, I was planning much of the next camp while planning the first.”
As a first-time organizer, DeRosia said she was impressed by the volunteers, speakers, and attendees’ positive attitudes and their willingness to help given the short time frame.
“Aside from being terrified of what I didn’t know, it was actually a very positive experience,” DeRosia said. “I had tons of encouragement from our organizing team and the community at large. I was really able to build on the success of the first three Grand Rapids WordCamps, WordCamp Ann Arbor, and the newest area WordCamp in Jackson (MI). I had serious doubts that the community would even care about having another WordCamp (Was I just wasting my time?), but they proved that it’s a wanted commodity.”
Amazing event. Grand Rapids has a solid, vibrant community of its own and they all came together to create something special and unique. And of course, the whole DeRosia family is incredible. Five stars guys.
And thanks for attending Sarah!