By Mary Tucker, Sr. PR/Communications Manager
Aaron Bludworth, President and CEO of Fern, is the inaugural recipient of the IAEE Humanitarian Award, which was unveiled last year. This award recognizes an IAEE member who demonstrates commitment to equality, social responsibility and exemplifies unselfish giving to the well-being of humanity through aiding those less fortunate, and eliminating/reducing the pain and suffering of others.
Aaron is known throughout the industry for exemplifying these qualities and leading by example. He was commended for never passing an opportunity to make a new friend, helping the helpless, or finding ways to enhance the lives of those whose path may cross his. He has assisted the homeless to find shelter and aid in the middle of a cold and rainy night; he has ensured a homeless family is provided with a safe place to live and rebuild their shattered lives. One way or another, Aaron never misses an opportunity to provide a helping hand to the desperate.
Aaron was recognized for his contributions this past December during the Annual Networking Luncheon and Awards Presentation at Expo! Expo! IAEE’s Annual Meeting & Exhibition 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada (pictured below with IAEE Awards Committee Member Charlotte Pearson, CEM and IAEE President and CEO David DuBois, CMP, CAE, FASAE, CTA).
Here, Aaron shares with IAEE his thoughts on simple acts of kindness, how the exhibitions and events industry impacts communities, and what each person can do to make a difference.
IAEE: Your nomination commended your moral conviction and penchant for helping others. How did your sense of social responsibility evolve?
Aaron: First, I think the recognition is overgenerous and that there are many more deserving. What I try to do is probably just more noticed due to my (over)sharing and social media reach – I like to think that I am not doing anything particularly unique. Though I didn’t always emulate it, I grew up in a family who was doing a lot of good usually very quietly, especially a father. This example seemed to me to be something I simply should grow into. I grew up a member (still am) of a belief system that strongly encourages serving our fellow man/woman. I wouldn’t be true to my faith if I wasn’t trying to do my best to recognize the plight of others and lift where I can.
IAEE: You have been praised for making the time to pursue your humanitarian work despite extensive travels and busy itineraries. How do you find the opportunities to give back while on the road?
Aaron: In a way, my travels facilitate some of my work. I am involved in poverty-related charities in NYC and Salt Lake, in addition to some involvement in the Cincinnati area. When I travel to these locations for business I try to spend a little bit of time with these organizations. I also try to spend time one on one with homeless people to better understand their stories, their plight, keep my perspective, and help them out a bit. I can do this anywhere and often wander the streets late at night or early in the morning trying to engage with local people who are struggling.
IAEE: This award also recognizes contributions that go beyond the scope of the industry, an ongoing commitment that reaches a personal level. What aspect of helping others fills you with the most personal satisfaction?
Aaron: To be honest, I’m not sure I change a lot of lives but I try to help people feel cared about, to smile and to have a little bit of hope. I’m really going for “moments” most of the time and if I feel like I lightened someone’s load, even briefly, I’ve helped just a little. It’s pretty simple for me most of the time.
IAEE: What advice do you have for people who would like to make a difference, but don’t really know where to start, or are hesitant because they don’t know how much of a commitment they can make?
Aaron: Go where you are uncomfortable. Talk to people you wouldn’t usually talk to. Push yourself. But, if you can’t get yourself to do these things, give financially if able. Go visit an organization supporting a cause important to you and offer to help. Realize that those who struggle aren’t really very different than you are, they probably made a couple of small decisions that changed their destiny.
IAEE: In your opinion, in what way can the exhibitions and events industry make the most positive impact on communities? Is there an organization that you feel is taking the industry in the right direction in this manner? Do you have a particular call to action for the industry?
Aaron: I don’t really like to prescribe approaches for other organizations and see many doing great things. I can only tell you what we are doing. We try to get our people involved in doing good in their community through company organized activities and on their own. My office recently prepared and served a meal at the Ronald McDonald House and participated in a couple of sub for Santa gift drives. Many of our locations served in food banks during the fall. We offer some limited paid volunteer time off to make it a little easier for people to get out and do good.
IAEE: If you were able to devote yourself solely to your humanitarian work, how would you go about it? Do you have a “dream” project that you would focus on? Or, would you spread your work out among various causes?
Aaron: I’m working on these questions and have been for a long time. I hope to get there one day and will keep you updated. I’d give up everything if I knew I could make a real impact on permanent housing, poverty relief, mental health, and substance abuse. The need is massive and growing. I do think if we all gave a few percent of our income every year to good causes working on these efforts we would quickly change the world. In the meantime, say hi to someone lonely, give five bucks to someone who needs it, don’t ignore anyone, and don’t waste too much time.
The deadline to submit nominations for the 2020 IAEE Humanitarian Award is 31 August! You can also check out the other IAEE award categories and nominate deserving IAEE members for these awards as well!