AIRS Annual Conference: Innovation Platform for I&R

Every year, I&R industry experts, cross-sector partners, and friends gather in a major city to present, share new technology, connect with friends, and discuss ideas shared in conference sessions or sketched out on paper napkins in the hotel lobby. These gatherings also provide an opportunity for a crash course on the latest technological and cultural innovations impacting the human services environment.  

To understand the scope of ideas shared over the years and the changing field, it’s fun to review past conference programs and past hot topics. For example, at the 1996 AIRS Conference, technology came front and center: “I&R and the Internet, Is it Time to Consider a Connection?” Or my personal favorite: 1997 - "United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta introduces a 2-1-1."   What ever happened to the idea of I&R kiosks on every corner? (Editor’s note: Lori Warrens was instrumental in creating the concept and national support for 2-1-1.)

I think the conference is a required stop for sharing an idea, conducting mini-market research, and determining whether your idea “has legs.” I’m speaking from personal experience. This year I had the honor of sharing a new I&R service and partnership concept with an audience comprised of I&R stakeholders so comprehensive and balanced that it offered a one-stop focus group Don Draper would envy.

This week, I presented “Tapping into New Community Resources - Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations" along with Mary Cooksey, the 2-1-1 Program Director at A Call for Help Community Resource Center at the United Way of Abilene, TX. The session gave us the opportunity to discuss and hear feedback on the partnership that grew between 2-1-1 Texas A Call for Help and Global Samaritan Resources (GSR) out of a need to better coordinate the connecting of people to durable medical goods. Session participants shared some innovative ideas and others shared their great need for this type of coordination in their communities to address unmet community needs and build the capacity of such partnerships.

GSR and other Medical Surplus Recovery Organizations (MSRO) across the county collect surplus medical supplies and equipment. They organize, store, and ship requested supplies to communities in need around the world. 2-1-1 and GSR are also working together to meet domestic needs by distributing GSR’s goods locally via the Abilene Basic Needs Network. To learn more about the project goals and outcomes, click here to view the presentation.

I couldn’t stay for the entire conference, but I know that the rich discussion that Mary and I experienced with our audience was repeated across the meeting rooms, dinner events, and small group discussions. I also know that those discussions have a lasting impact that is shaping the next generation of I&R products, services, and professionals. At the same time, I know the AIRS conference can't do it all. I hope that all of us will seek and support strategies to incubate and ultimately launch the next great I&R idea.

To learn more about how VisionLink is supporting Medical Surplus Recovery Organization expansion and quality improvement efforts, visit

Lori Warrens
Senior Director of Community Solutions

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