Celebrating the 25th Annual Family Café
25 Years of Collaboration, Advocacy, Friendship, Empowerment
Knowledge is everything when your loved one has special needs but accessing the tools and resources you need can be a journey to say the least. Whether you find no outlets or many, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone in the process. The Family Café knows how important it is to have access to resources and support in your community.
Since 1998, The Annual Family Café has brought Floridians with all types of disabilities together for three days of information, training, and networking. With a great range of individual breakout sessions, a packed Exhibit Hall with dozens of vendors, and a series of special events including Keynote speakers and The Governors’ Summit on Disabilities, The Annual Family Café offers attendees exposure to resources on a grand scale, unprecedented access to policy-making officials, and a chance to network with other individuals with disabilities and their families.
How It Started
On The Family Café Podcast, CEO & Founder Lori Fahey, and Founding Board Member and former COO Kim Galban-Countryman shared how The Annual Family Café started as an idea between colleagues and quickly turned into a successful non-profit. In the beginning, with a team of two, many had doubts but through perseverance and quite simply, a little stubbornness, Lori and Kim pressed on and met any challenge that came their way, even if it required the help of “How to…Dummy books”, haha.
They recall that in 1998, before online registrations were a thing, all the registrations came in by fax machine or postal mail. With a dining room table lined with envelopes, they would work nights and weekends labeling and stuffing envelopes. Fax machines were also so new they often found themselves teaching people how to use it so that they could send in their registration forms. When it came to who would get financial aid, at that time it was first-come-first-served so they would have to organize everything by the postmark on the envelope.
“It really should have never gone anywhere…everyone laughed at us and said it wouldn’t survive…that no one would show up” – Lori Fahey
It certainly wasn’t an easy road and there were many along the way that didn’t want to see The Family Café succeed. The pair admit, there were many times they thought of giving up but both Lori and Kim were fighters; they had each other’s back in everything, and if one had doubts, the other would double down with encouragement and the drive to succeed. Failure was certainly not an option.
The 1st Annual Family Café was held at (what is now) the Florida Hotel & Conference Center in Orlando, FL. and their hard work and determination won out in the end as they welcomed over 1200 registered attendees. Lori and Kim couldn’t believe it. They thought they would create this little thing that maybe a hundred or a couple hundred people might care about. Turns out former Governor Jeb Bush had different plans. Right off the bat he was their biggest fan, and going to The Annual Family Café became one of the joys of his life. In fact, Governor Bush has been quoted for telling his staff that there’s two things that he’s going to absolutely go to every year from a scheduling standpoint. One was the Police Memorial at the Plaza at the Capitol and the other was The Annual Family Café.
He attended every year while holding the office of Governor of Florida. The Annual Family Café Governor Bush attended was in 1999 where he gave a progress report of big increases in funding and commitments his team was making to empower people to have more services and more choices. You see, Governor Bush was working with the Florida Legislature to aggressively fund programs for the mentally disabled. The Family Café became a vital part of his strategy to improve services and to reform programs to create a separate agency, programs that had been languishing.
With Governor Bush being their main supporter, it wasn’t a surprise that The Family Café experienced a sudden rush of demand and Governor Jeb Bush recognized that too, because that’s when they put in money for a conference organizer that was paid through The Florida Department of Education. With the formation of a planning committee The Family Café started to gain more exposure and a little more popularity. “The planning committee is made up of stakeholders, people from the community, state agencies, and they help with putting the event together, selecting the presentations out of the proposals and figuring out what the different aspects of the event are gonna be to make sure all the bases are covered and all the different state agencies are represented.”
“The Family Café is an essential part of the efforts to improve the dignity of people who truly deserve the support of government and they continue to play a vital role for literally thousands of families who are seeking information to be empowered to make decisions for themselves and their loved ones.” – Governor Jeb Bush
How It’s Going
This year The Annual Family Café will celebrate its 25th Anniversary. Wow! Going strong for 25 years! What an incredible accomplishment to go from a dining room table hustle to the largest cross disability statewide event in the nation hosting over 10,000 registered attendees.
The Annual Family Café remains a FREE EVENT, with no registration cost for people with disabilities and their families. Only those attending in a professional capacity are asked to pay a $250 registration fee.
These days, not only does Governor Ron DeSantis attend, but you might even rub elbows with an actor, singer, or athlete as you make your way to a Zumba, Yoga or Dance class; or a session on Life Care Planning or Maximizing Your Advocacy Skills; or your favorite keynote speaker or one of the many vendor booths.
Here is what people all over Florida are saying about The Family Café:
“So excited. My family and I look forward to this all year.”
“The Family Café has been a tremendous help to my family and me.”
“It’s an event you will never forget. It will change you and energize you.”
“Fabulous conference for all disabilities.”
“We truly appreciate all that your organization does.”
“I’ve been coming to The Family Café for many, many years.”
Governor Jeb Bush also once shared, “The Family Café provided an incredible outlook for me as a Governor to be able to communicate directly with people I enormously respected and considered an important part of who we were as a state. Kudos to Lori for creating that forum and providing a sense of empowerment for so many people that up until then, were left behind.”
How You Can Join
Online registration is OPEN. To register to attend the 25th Annual Family Café on June 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando please visit www.FamilyCafe.net. The Family Café is also proud to offer families limited Financial Assistance, which can provide for complimentary accommodations at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Orlando. All assistance is based on the availability of funding and awarded by lottery – not first come first serve. To apply, simply check the box on the registration form.
The deadline to register for the event and request financial assistance is Saturday, April 1, 2023.
There are also Pre-Conference Events being held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando on Thursday, June 8:
- The 2023 Women’s Summit – The 2023 Women’s Summit offers a full day of personal healing and growth for women in varying stages of life, addressing the needs of women who hold diverse interests and share a desire to better take care of their own health and well-being, so they can in turn support the health and wellness of their family members.
- The 2023 FROM Pre-Conference Training Event – Each year the FROM Pre-Con provides advocates working to build local networks and family-run organizations in their communities with information and resources. Learn more about FROM here.