On any Inheritance of Hope Legacy RetreatⓇ, Anna Conti’s hands are full. With little hands. Our chief “hand-holder” and “sticker-sticker” is rarely without a charge of adoring little ones basking in the sunshine of her undivided attention. Anna knows that debates about princesses and villains are just as important as conversations about pets, career opportunities in the superhero field, and whether to choose the kids’ mac and cheese meal or pizza. Adept at navigating Dr. Seuss Landing or Magic Kingdom, Anna is proud to call herself a “Disney girl.” She can distract from a sugar-induced meltdown, welcome the most shy preschooler into a group, and ease any parent’s separation anxiety, because she recognizes and loves each child wholeheartedly.
|This Disney girl knows how to rock a pair of mouse ears!|
This June, we celebrate Anna’s 20th retreat as a volunteer. First introduced to IoH as a family member served, Anna, her three siblings, and parents attended the Orlando January 2011 retreat when she was a teenager. At the time, her father was undergoing the strongest chemotherapy treatment available for stage four lymphoma that had spread to his eyes, lungs, neck, and liver. Looking back, Anna sees it as a blessing that she slowly stopped noticing how sick her father was, and adjusted to a “new normal.”
|The Conti family on their 2011 Legacy RetreatⓇ|
Anna remembers the anxiety surrounding her father’s diagnosis “I used to bottle things up, so being on the retreat and learning how to process things in a healthy way was good for me. Being able to talk about what was happening, share what I was feeling, and realize that I was not the only one was really helpful.” Although nervous going into the weekend, she claims, “When I left, I felt so refreshed--I didn’t know what I needed!”
One group activity Anna especially enjoyed was throwing eggs that symbolized what she was “sick” of--a tangible way to release how she felt. Another special highlight was the kids’ outing, “Kids’ Night Out was a blast. I remember laughing a lot,” she says. Before the close of the retreat, Anna knew she wanted to come back as a volunteer, pointing to the radical inclusion she saw, “You feel like family from the start. I think that speaks volumes about what IoH is all about.”
|Anna and a friend prepare to smash eggs and worries|
When asked what her family took home besides happy memories, Anna explains that the retreat was a good affirmation of how her parents, Bob and Angela, were already living--being intentional and sharing honest, yet appropriate information with their children. The Contis’ example of taking each day as it came and working to seek God’s peace rubbed off on their children’s own faith formation.
Jill Thompson, IoH Family Legacy Director, describes the Conti family similarly, “I remember when I first met the Conti Family. They attended the Legacy RetreatⓇ because their dad had cancer, but their mom also was battling Parkinson’s disease. Despite the challenges their family faced, they exuded such a beautiful joy and contentment. It didn’t matter what the circumstances were, they had peace and hope! It is from the overflow of these qualities that Anna has become one of the greatest Inheritance of Hope volunteers of all time. She pours out joy, peace, and hope from her own personal overflow! I love that girl so much!”
|Anna and Jill Thompson inspiring laughs along with hope|
The Conti family never lost that hope, and a year of surgeries and chemo worked. Bob has stayed in remission since 2012. The retired college professor now teaches math courses online, and Angela is wrapping up her time as a homeschool teacher. Bobby, the Contis’ oldest child, is married and working on his Master of Divinity in Pastoral Studies, and youngest daughters Grace and Nicole are still in school. While it might seem she is always busy with IoH, Anna is the Preschool Ministry Director at Grace Community Church in Washingtonville, New York, overseeing an average of 120 preschoolers each weekend.
|Anna and brother Bobby volunteering together on an IoH Legacy RetreatⓇ|
Whether serving in her day-to-day job or through IoH, Anna is passionate about ministry, “It fills you up with joy. I feel like I have the best job ever.” An IoH volunteer since 2012 and family coordinator since May 2017, Anna appreciates each step of every retreat--starting at the first welcome phone call, “I like connecting with the families and having the chance to share my experience with them: that IoH impacted me so much as a teen that I wanted to come back.”
|Kids’ Night Out in the Big Apple|
In addition to her coordinator duties, Anna facilitates our preschool room on most Legacy RetreatsⓇ. Betsy Ogren, IoH Events Director, praises Anna’s positivity, willingness to jump in to serve in any capacity, and her contributions in developing a meaningful preschool retreat curriculum.
Playdough, bubbles, books, and toys are important parts of each session in the preschool room, but Anna’s favorite activity is the popsicle stick house project that each child makes along with a drawing of their family. She enjoys hearing who is in each picture, including grandparents and any four-legged family members. Anna also honors the role she has in helping our youngest family members sort out their emotions.
|Anna leading an activity in the preschool group|
More than the specific events surrounding each retreat, Anna treasures the overarching love that defines IoH, “I’m always excited to be reunited with my IoH family. Now that my job keeps me from going to every retreat, I long for them more--it’s so hard when I can’t be on one, I feel like I’m missing a family reunion! So being on them makes them all the sweeter.”
The entire IoH team feels the same way, and Anna’s gifts and service are noticed family-wide. According to Deric Milligan, Inheritance of Hope Co-Founder and CEO, “Anna is a tender-hearted servant who has an amazing ability to connect with children. As I think about the character and qualities that reflect the perfect IoH volunteer, Anna has them all.”
“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37
Angie Howell is constantly inspired by the people she meets in the Inheritance of Hope family. Her connection to IoH goes back to Davidson College, where she met Kristen Grady Milligan the first week of their freshman year. Kristen eventually started Inheritance of Hope with her husband Deric, and Angie heard about their work at a college reunion. In 2010, the two former hallmates got back in touch, and Angie became involved in IoH shortly afterwards. She has served as a Legacy Retreat volunteer, Coordinator, and now, as Communications Manager, Angie helps tell the stories of IoH. Read more Inheritance of Hope blogposts >>