SPPAC Service Event

Conferencing Differently: Elevating Outreach and Service at the Society of Pediatric Psychology Annual Conference and Lessons Learned Along the Way

Desireé N. Williford, PhD, MPH; Rachel S. Fisher, MS; Ariel Blakey, MA; & Kirby-Estar Laguerre, MS.

1Division of Behavioral Medicine & Clinical Psychology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH USA

2Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH USA

3Department of Psychology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK USA

4Department of Psychological and Brian Sciences, Boston University, Boston, MA USA

5Department of Psychology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV USA

Introduction to Committee for Outreach and Service (SPP COS)

Founded in 2020, the Society of Pediatric Psychology Committee for Outreach and Service (SPP COS – pronounced “cause”) has been committed to increasing outreach and service efforts among SPP members. Regardless of current roles, training, or career level, as SPP members we have dedicated ourselves to a field in service of patients, families, local organizations, and communities. As our membership continues to grow, expanding both nationally and internationally, SPP COS’ mission is to extend and amplify our reach even further via service and outreach initiatives. Using SPPAC as an initial opportunity for growth, each year we are committed to offering at least one service and outreach-related project as part of the conference proceedings with the goal of giving back to the community hosting us. Beyond this event, however, SPP COS is committed and motivated to develop innovative strategies and inspire service and outreach among members throughout the year.

A Message from the Faculty Chair

With each #SPPACService initiative, I become more inspired and invigorated. While planning has not been easy, and it certainly takes a village to establish something new, it has been a blessing watching this initiative grow from an idea in my head to the SPP COS that it is today. I’m thankful to all of the SPP members and trainees who have participated and/or helped organize these projects, and for those who have shared your positive words of encouragement and support since the early days. YOU are the heart and soul of SPP COS. Below you will find a summary of past and current initiatives and some data we have collected around participation. We hope this will inspire you to join in our mission and contribute to its success now and in the future. Happy Volunteering!  

 –Desireé Williford, PhD, MPH

SPP COS Founder & Faculty Chair

Assistant Professor, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center/University of Cincinnati 

A Summary of Past #SPPACService Initiatives

To date, SPP COS has planned four #SPPACService events: 

2020 – The Stewpot, Dallas, TX

The Stewpot is an organization focused on providing a safe haven and resources for unhoused, under-housed, and at-risk individuals and communities in Dallas, TX. The Stewpot offers a range of social services such as programming for adults and youth experiencing homelessness; meal and grocery services; physical, dental, and mental health services; housing programs; casework and legal services; art, music, and creative programming; and access to emergency shelter.

Lessons Learned

  • The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of our inaugural #SPPACService project in 2020 and a virtual conference in 2021; however, we hope to continue with our service plans should SPPAC return to Dallas, TX.
  • Our communications about the organization via social media led to several financial and resource donations by members to The Stewpot – we appreciated and were inspired by SPP members’ commitment to giving back and supporting The Stewpot’s mission during this challenging time.

2022 – The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Phoenix, AZ

In 2022, we returned to an in-person SPPAC conference and were excited to restart the #SPPACService initiative. We were excited to partner with The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a nonprofit whose core values are to provide essential services and resources to feed, clothe, house, and heal those in need. In addition to providing access to dining rooms, food boxes, and urban farms, families are provided access to additional supportive programming and community resources for work and educational needs and scholarships; homelessness prevention and intervention; companion animal support; shelter and transitional housing; and medical, dental, and family wellness care. During SPPAC 2022, our SPP members served in one of their dining rooms, prepping and serving over 100 meals and getting to know local families. On-site at the conference hotel, SPP members stopped by our table during scheduled poster sessions to collectively assemble over 100 coffee kits which were donated back to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the conclusion of the conference.

Lessons Learned

  • #SPPAC2022 became our inaugural year for in-person service and outreach
  • We had excellent interest in this event, particularly among students, trainees, and early career faculty.
  • COVID-19/travel plans required some flexibility in planning/participation; however, we our established “waitlist” for #SPPACService allowed us to easily able to accommodate changes and fill our participation goal of 20 participants.
  • Barriers: A scheduling conflict with a poster session, especially for student and trainees scheduled to present.
  • Facilitators: Student/trainee commitment and willingness to problem solve (e.g., reschedule poster session, arrive a few minutes late) was notable despite not being asked to do so.
  • Areas for future improvement: Reduce trainee/student barriers, particularly schedule overlaps with poster sessions.

2022 – Achieving My Purpose, Phoenix, AZ

Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 also provided an opportunity to pilot virtual #SPPACService programming. For this service and outreach opportunity, we partnered with Achieving My Purpose, a nonprofit organization which aims to inform, inspire, and empower women by providing opportunities and access to succeed and thrive in education, work, and life. This organization offers a host of events, workshops, discussions/conversations, retreats and more to inspire and promote creativity and authenticity in designing life plans and goals. Moreover, as one of their missions is to provide exposure to women who define success in different ways, we partnered with Achieving My Purpose to compose an interactive Sharing Circle in which our members identifying as women, and their organizational leaders and partners, could come together and interact, sharing stories and insights about career, educational, and life stages, what has inspired this trajectory, and how success has been defined and changed throughout each individual’s journeys. Topics also included self-esteem, self-care, and leadership skills.

Lessons Learned

  • Participants describe having a positive, meaningful experience; however, engagement in virtual service was challenging.
  • While intended to be a smaller, more intimate group (n = 10 SPP members), this event was not well-attended (e.g., <50% of RSVP’d members attended, with several no shows and last-minute cancellations; less active participation outside of SPP COS and organizational leaders and two student/trainee members) as compared to our in-person service opportunities.
  • Barriers: No specific barriers were reported (we received minimal feedback from non-attendees); however, this was the first virtual #SPPACService offering.
    • Potential barriers included conflicts with virtual SIG meetings and balancing work/conference demands (e.g., members taking less time off work for a virtual conference).
  • Facilitators: Participants were interested in the idea/concept and appreciated the opportunity to participate in an activity that felt relevant to their personal and professional experiences.
  • Areas for future improvement: Discrepancies were observed in the level of support/donations received across the two organizations we partnered with in 2022 efforts, so we decided to take purposeful and intentional pause on offering a virtual #SPPACService option the following year.
    • We are interested in continuing to learn more from this experience and ways to engage SPP members in #SPPACService when remote and throughout the year.
    • We are carefully considering the implications and processes regarding offering service opportunities which aim to support multiple community organizations.
    • We developed specific guidelines for SPP members who express interest and commit to service and outreach activities to ensure positive, engaged participation and to convey respect to our organizational partners.

2023 – By the Hand Club for Kids, Chicago, IL

At SPPAC last year, we partnered with By the Hand Club for Kids, an after-school program supporting children from under-resourced neighborhoods in Chicago, IL. As active participants in educational and play-based programming and meal services, our members learned about the mission and goals of By the Hand and built connections with youth as they supported learning and developmental goals. Led predominately by student and trainee enthusiasm, passion, and networking, we also assembled over 330 goodie bags for the youth served across all locations of By the Hand Club for Kids, exceeding our initial goal. We also had our first Organizational Sponsor of the #SPPACService initiative this year and are incredibly thankful to our friends within the Psychology Training Programs at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago for this generous support.

Lessons Learned

  • We had significant interest in this activity, particularly among students, trainees, and early faculty, and implementation was successful.
  • We received positive feedback from participants and from the organization.
  • In total, 22 SPP members participated in the Off-Site #SPPACService Event
    • Student and trainee members comprised 72.7% (n = 16) and faculty/professional members comprised 27.3% (n = 6) of participants.
  • Barriers: Schedule conflicts with other SPPAC programming (i.e., SPP Business meeting) and Student Ambassadors
  • Facilitators: Early, frequent communication about #SPPACService; social media presence; attending #SPPACService with a colleague or friend
  • Areas for future improvement: Given predominate participation by students, trainees, and early career faculty and history of schedule conflicts with other SPPAC programming, we:
    • Established a targeted goal to increase interest and participation among our mid- and late-career faculty, SPPAC Leadership, and other professional members.
    • Requested our Faculty Chair join SPPAC planning meetings.

Lived Experiences of #SPPACService

Since the beginning of #SPPACService, the SPP COS team have accepted feedback and lived experiences engaging in the project. We have had many discussions with participants as well as SPP members interested in learning more. Overall, feedback and experiences with events have been incredibly positive from the perspective of SPP members across several training and career stages as well as from organizers who have led or assisted in the organization of these events. Below are a few quotes we have received about SPP COS initiatives:


“Being able to participate in the #SPPACService project last year was a sincere privilege. During a busy conference, it was great to be able to ground myself and interact with the local community in a way that felt mutually beneficial in just a couple hours of activity.”  

–Erin Flynn, BA

Clinical Research Coordinator, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center


“Participating in the #SPPACService events the past 2 years has been a great way to connect with and learn more about the communities that graciously host the SPPAC conference. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to connect with my fellow colleagues and peers during these events and have made lasting connections with pediatric psychology trainees from a variety of institutions. The service project is a great break in the conference programming and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in multiple events and projects!” 

–Lauren Wruble, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, Michigan Medicine & C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital


“#SPPACService is a great opportunity to learn about the communities we are visiting while attending SPPAC. I have really enjoyed connecting with both community members and SPP colleagues while engaging in service activities the past few years.”  

–Carolina Bejarano, PhD

Assistant Professor, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center/University of Cincinnati


“I have felt it very rewarding to support the communities we find ourselves in during the conference. With the values SPP holds, I feel this has been a necessary and beneficial addition to the conference whether it’s participating in the direct community outreach or briefly engaging with the on site initiatives to support the communities.”

–Nicole Fleisher, PsyD

Assistant Professor, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel University


“Brainstorming together about how to help others is the main reason why I became a psychologist and working on this project with an amazing team has been an incredible opportunity ! I am so grateful to be part of #SPPACService.”  

–Juliana Yanguas, PsyD

The Pediatric Psychologist (Private Practice )


“Stepping away from the conference hotel to support the children, youth, and families in the Phoenix community was such a meaningful experience and a fantastic way to embody our Society's mission and vision. I hope the #SPPACService Event becomes a permanent part of the SPPAC program and that it gets bigger and bigger each year!” 

–E. Thomaseo Burton, PhD, MPH

Associate Professor, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


“The community service event at By The Hand Club for Kids in Chicago was such a fulfilling and fun experience - it was easily my favorite part of SPPAC in 2023. It was a blast to hang out with the children and staff at the center, learn about their mission and success, and get to meet new members of SPP.”

David Fedele, PhD, ABPP

Associate Professor, University of Florida


“Volunteering with #SPPACService made the conference so meaningful to me. I appreciated being able to use my expertise in pediatric psychology to share about coping skills in an after-school environment. In addition to getting to play basketball with some very cool kids, I got to meet other society members and see a different side of them than I normally get to. It was a ton of fun and I'm so thankful for the opportunity!”

–Jocelyn Smith Carter, PhD

Professor, DePaul University

#SPPACService 2024 and Ways to Get Involved! 

Our 2024 Partner: Love Your Neighbor NOLA

SPP COS is proud to partner with Love Your Neighbor NOLA in the hosting of one of their community events for youth and families. Committed to community outreach and partnership, this incredible organization provides a range of services to youth and families to support goals of self-sufficiency. Primarily serving minoritized and historically marginalized communities within New Orleans, Love Your Neighbor NOLA has been attentive to experiences and impacts of trauma and violence. In addition to providing individualized support, peer mentoring, and access to trauma-informed care, Love Your Neighbor NOLA regularly hosts community events in partnership with businesses, nonprofits, and community leaders, to support the provision of mental and behavioral healthcare resources, employment opportunities, daycare, education and other essential items/donations to families in need. Learn more at https://www.loveyourneighbornola.com and follow @loveyourneighbornola on Instagram. 

Opportunity 1: On-Site Service at the Conference Hotel

At each poster session, we will hold a #SPPACService table where SPP members can assemble hygiene kits full of essential items for youth and families. These kits will be donated to Love Your Neighbor NOLA following the conference to support their mission and goals.

The Love Your Neighbor & Your Mentees/Colleagues Challenge

This year we are challenging SPP members to assemble even more kits than prior years while simultaneously building opportunities for networking between students/trainees and faculty (a special thank you to Dr. Idia Thurston for this wonderful idea). To support this goal, we have developed the Love Your Neighbor and Your Mentees/Colleagues Challenge to encourage faculty and their mentees and/or colleagues to participate in creating hygiene kits together. Arrange a friendly competition to see who can make the most or just keep your hands busy while you network, get to know one another, or discuss ongoing/future collaborations – the challenge is up to you! If you are attending without an existing mentor/mentee/colleague, please still stop by! Let a member of our team know you are interested in our Challenge when you arrive at our table during the poster sessions – we would love to facilitate connections with others at the table at the same time! Please note, while we are especially encouraging connection between trainees/students and faculty, this challenge is not limited to these roles. Grab a friend or colleague instead – all are welcome and encouraged to participate in our On-Site Service Opportunity! 

Opportunity 2: Off-Site Service at Love Your Neighbor NOLA.

On Thursday, 4/25/23, SPP COS will partner with Love Your Neighbor NOLA in hosting a family community event. SPP participants will engage in a host of activities, including organizing and assisting with donation efforts and even using their psychological skill sets to engage in educational (i.e., coping skill and parent management strategies) and play-based activity stations with youth and families. We are pleased to announce that this event is at capacity given the significant interest we have had among members. However, we have assembled a waitlist, so please indicate interest in the SPPAC Registration Pool if you would like to be added to this list. We will also be sure to take this interest into account in the planning of #SPPACService 2025. In the meantime, we welcome and encourage participation in our On-Site opportunity.

We look forward to your participation in #SPPACService 2024!

Follow Us to Stay in The Loop!

More information on SPP COS and this year’s initiatives can be found here (click on the “Service Project” tab). You can also follow, post, and repost our content on social media with our hashtags #SPPACService and #SPPCOS. Please also be on the lookout for official SPP Communications about our initiatives on X (formally Twitter) and via the SPP email listserv.

A Parting Note & Hopes for #SPPAC2025 and Beyond

While trainees and students have been the heart of #SPPACService since its inception, we have been inspired by the significant growth in interest this year, particularly among faculty and staff. In fact, at the time of writing this, over 200 SPP members indicated interest in the SPPAC registration portal representing all levels of training and career stage (from students/trainees to retiree members)! We have also been appreciative of the 2024 SPP Planning Committee and Board of Directors for their support of SPP COS and its formal recognition as an SPP initiative. Based on this interest and support, we are hoping to pilot larger or multiple #SPPACService events to allow for increased participation and engagement. If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to contact us. We are particularly interested in collaborations with SPP Special Interest Groups, Affinity Groups, and Antiracism Workgroups to help us grow the reach and impact of SPP COS initiatives and member involvement. 

Contact Us & Get Involved

For questions or feedback about SPP COS initiatives, or to get involved, please email Dr. Desireé Williford, SPP COS’ Faculty Chair at Desiree.Williford@cchmc.org.