Navigating Service Access and Equity: A Recap of IRC 2024 Conference

Community EngagementBlog

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On May 4, 2024, the Riverside Convention Center in Riverside, California, buzzed with energy and anticipation as it hosted the much-anticipated Inland Regional Center (IRC) 2024 Service Access and Equity (SAE) Conference. Under the fitting theme “May the Advocacy Be with You,” attendees from diverse backgrounds and sectors converged to explore strategies, share insights, and chart a course toward a more equitable future.

The IRC 2024 Service Access and Equity Conference was made possible through the generous support of Language Access and Cultural Competency (LACC) funding in collaboration with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

Unlike traditional conferences with resource booths, the IRC 2024 SAE Conference took a unique approach to engagement. In lieu of resource booths, the conference collaborated with In-Roads Creative Programs, Inc. to showcase a client art show. This innovative partnership allowed attendees to experience the creativity and talent of individuals served by the program, offering a powerful reminder of the importance of artistic expression in fostering inclusion and empowerment within the community.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the IRC Community Engagement Team, In-Roads, and 24 Hour Home Care for their invaluable contributions to the success of the conference.

“Thank you to the incredible planning committee for your dedication, creativity, and hard work in making our event a resounding success. Your collaborative efforts and tireless commitment have made a difference. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to work alongside such an amazing team.” – Tania Sanchez, IRC Event Developer.

Note: Clients from Options for All, an IRC Vendor, captured the conference on video, and the footage will be edited and uploaded to for those who couldn’t attend this remarkable event.

Setting the Stage: The Power of Advocacy

The conference theme, inspired by the iconic line from Star Wars, “May the Force Be with You,” underscored the pivotal role of advocacy in driving positive change and fostering inclusivity. Like the Force, advocacy empowers individuals and communities to challenge systemic barriers, amplify marginalized voices, and champion equitable access to essential services.

“The IRC SAE Conference brings different people together to share new ideas and work towards fairness. It’s not just a meeting; it’s a way to improve things, where we can share ideas, make friends, and start making real changes in our community.” – Dr. CJ Cook.

Keynote Addresses and Thought-Provoking Sessions

The day began with engaging keynote speeches from esteemed experts in service access and equity. Stephen Garrett, Director of Clinical Services, and Virgo Garrett, Program Manager of Social and Behavioral Supports, from Nasaba Family Counseling, provided valuable insights into advocacy for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) within our communities. Additionally, Robin Ferguson, IRC Early Start Program Manager, shared her expertise as a co-keynote speaker, highlighting innovative advocacy strategies for Early Start. These insightful presentations sparked thought-provoking discussions and inspired attendees to take impactful steps toward fostering inclusivity and equity in service provision.

Other notable speakers included Lisa Gonzalez, a DDS Deaf and hard-of-hearing statewide Specialist, who shared her expertise in advocating for the needs of individuals within the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Joining her was IRC’s own Estefania Pena, IRC Deaf and Hard of Hearing Cultural Specialist for Riverside and San Bernardino County, offering valuable insights into cultural competency and accessibility initiatives within the region. Their presentations provided vital perspectives on addressing the unique challenges faced by Deaf and Deaf Plus individuals and emphasized the importance of advocacy, inclusion, and service provision.

The conference concluded with a presentation from Dr. CJ Cook, DBA, Program Administrator overseeing Service Access and Equity, Community Engagement, Emergency Services, and Training and Development at IRC. CJ delivered an insightful talk on the transformative power of communication, highlighting its pivotal role in fostering service access, equity, and community empowerment. His presentation shed light on the importance of effective communication strategies in building inclusive environments and driving positive change within organizations and communities.

“The speakers and what they talked about got a big thumbs-up from everyone there. They knew their stuff and greatly cared about making things fair for everyone. Their talks got people talking and made them want to do something about it. It was awesome to see how much their words meant to everyone in the room.” – Martin Morales, IRC LACC Specialist.

Spotlight on Talent

The Client art show was open throughout the day and was enjoyed by all who attended. IRC Client musical talent Evan De La Fuente performed at the opening performance. During lunchtime, attendees enjoyed Fernando Preciado’s music. The conference came to a close with a performance by Josuah Diaz. Additionally, the 501st Legion Service was present in full Star Wars attire, and there was a photo booth for everyone to enjoy.

“The clients from IRC showcased their talents with grace and enthusiasm, reminding us of our community’s incredible diversity and creativity. Their performances and artwork were a true testament to the power of inclusion and the boundless potential within every one of us.”—Betsy Cook, Victor Elementary School District Special Education Teacher.

Networking and Collaboration

One of the highlights of the conference was the opportunity for attendees to network, forge new connections, and cultivate collaborations. From informal coffee breaks to structured sessions, participants exchanged ideas, best practices, and contact information, laying the groundwork for future partnerships and collective advocacy efforts.

“Attending IRC conferences is like opening a door to new opportunities. It’s where we come together, learn from each other, and grow stronger as a community.” – Monica Munguia, IRC Community Engagement Manager.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion

The SAE conference was about embracing diversity, fairness, and togetherness. The organizers worked hard to ensure that everyone, no matter who they were, could join in. They thought of everything, from having American Sign Language (ASL) and Spanish interpreters to making sure the food catered to everyone’s tastes. Every little thing was planned carefully to ensure that everyone felt welcome and included.

” At IRC, we believe that by embracing diversity, we can unlock limitless potential and pave the way for a brighter future for all.” – Lavinia Johnson, IRC Executive Director.

Looking Ahead: A Call to Action

As the day drew to a close, attendees left the conference energized, inspired, and equipped with the tools and knowledge to continue their advocacy work. The IRC 2024 SAE Conference served as a catalyst for change, igniting a collective commitment to advancing service access and equity in communities around the world.

In the words of Yoda, another iconic figure from the Star Wars saga, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Armed with the spirit of advocacy and solidarity, participants departed with a renewed sense of purpose, ready to confront challenges, dismantle barriers, and build a future where access to essential services is truly equitable for all. May the advocacy be with us, today and always.


In keeping with our commitment to inclusivity and community engagement, we’re excited to announce that the 2025 conference will be held in San Bernardino County. Stay tuned for dates and times to be announced in December 2024.

“As we look ahead, let’s not merely consider change but actively pursue it. Each of us has a role to play in shaping a more inclusive and equitable future.”—Vince Toms, IRC Director of Community Services.


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Community Engagement

Inland Regional Center's Community Engagement Unit can be reached at [email protected]

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