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GK USA Conference: After Three Years

Three years since its last face-to-face conference, Gawad Kalinga USA (GK USA) held its planning and training conference in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 4 to 6. About 75 people, all advocates for the poor, came from various areas across the U.S. including: California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Special guests from Gawad Kalinga (GK) Philippines graced the event, including Chairman, Luis Oquinena, Executive Director, Dan Bercasio (who attended via Zoom), and Program Head, Mark Lawrence Cruz. Board Members Francis de los Reyes and Donna Reyes emceed the three-day event.

The last GK USA conference was held in Tampa, Florida in 2019. While GK USA has planned for the conference to be a biennial event, the pandemic limited its ability to meet in person last year, and members, volunteers, and advocates had to make do with virtual meetings and events. With members excited to see each other in person, the conference opened with an informal meet-and-greet at The Vistas Community Center. It was a great occasion to catch up for those who have been involved with the organization for quite some time and an exciting opportunity for others who are meeting each other for the first time.

GK USA outgoing Executive Director and Board Member, Maricel Villanueva, opened the second day with a prayer. In his welcome remarks, newly elected Chairman, Dr. Carlos “Charlie” Capati, thanked outgoing Chairman, Dr. Jose Raffinan, Jr., for his generous and relentless service to GK USA for more than a decade. Dr. Capati shared his vision for the organization and commitment to aggressively grow GK USA’s membership across the U.S.

As a springboard for the planning conference, Luis shared the current national situation in the Philippines and how GK is responding by “casting on the other side” and reaching out to untapped resources. Following Luis, Mark passionately shared his own GK journey, starting out as a volunteer and now leading the development and management of GK’s programs. Dan, who joined via Zoom from the Philippines, shared how building GK communities is not just about building physical villages, but building a culture of giving and sharing even in communities where there are no GK villages. This is the essence of Barangay Walang Iwanan – where no one is left behind.

Maricel also shared GK USA’s milestones and achievements in the past year, while newly elected Executive Director Carol Tulud shared plans to further grow the organization both in terms of membership size and funds raised. Miami Florida Area Director John Jarin presented the various GK programs that GK USA is supporting while Josie Castro presented on behalf of The Filipino School. The newly formed, GK USA Next Generation led by Allyson Nepomuceno brought renewed excitement as they plan to work with various colleges and universities to spread awareness about the work of GK. GK Europe Founder Olivier Girault inspired the crowd with ideas about how to mobilize interns to discover and experience the work of GK.

The third and last day focused on sharing of best practices. Board Member Josie Disterhoft, Beth Antiporda, and Steve Santoro shared some ideas on how to engage potential donors. Donna, who also leads the marketing and communications team, shared information on marketing resources that are available to help the various areas in their fundraising efforts. Area Directors, Leslie Tiquia from Chicago, Alex Gutierrez from Houston, and Jun Domantay from Tampa shared best practices in their respective regions to jumpstart each area’s planning activity.

The success of the conference would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Mher and Arman Amante who organized the event and provided technical support respectively.

As a symbol of their commitment to end poverty in the Philippines, the attending members received a membership card that bears their name and the title, “Advocate for the Poor.”

To support GK USA’s various programs to help the poor, please visit:

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