“HUG FEST” (Reflections of the 9th Annual CUE Center Conference for the Missing)

CUE Center National Conference


Photo by  Cynthia Hayden Guinn

People talk about the major milestones in life that leave lasting impressions – the birth of a child, marriage, the death of a loved one, transitions of achievement such as graduations, religious rites etc.   However, the average person will never know the extent of the life changing experience noted at the Community United Effort (CUE) Center for the Missing Conference until you are a participant and active observer.

The recent 9th Annual Conference held at the Courtyard Marriott Carolina Beach Hotel was a sight to behold on so many levels.  Ladyjustice was treated to this incredible event for a consecutive year along with 2-300 others…

Familiar faces, southern jargon, a tireless network of volunteers at the ready, a meeting of the minds for information exchange,  the crossing of hearts and many, many, many HUGS throughout the four days – essentially a non-stop HUG FEST!

Upon arrival, LJ was asked at the registration desk when she would be presenting….which was very flattering and a bit amusing, as almost without exception presenters “get only one chance at bat.” Changing of the guard and the experts is healthy and keeps things fresh…

The pressure and responsibility was off for this crime fighter….  A year had passed with a much larger “resume” of radio shows and catalog of diverse blogs… a greater expanse of social media exposure  and Voila…. more credibility.

On the surface, the CUE Center Conference possesses the usual ingredients – a registration process, various gear and books for purchase, exhibit tables, an agenda filled with activity, entertainment,  Southern style food, endless donated gift baskets ad raffle opportunities,  an impressive lineup of speakers and many dedicated volunteers to address your every need. BUT, BUT, BUT, the most amazing aspect for this writer was the opportunity to observe the new connections made between people, between agencies and organizations,  between states, between “newbies” and veterans of the conference… AND the appreciation for what the CUE Center consists of at its core.

It’s as if a few hundred light bulbs were perpetually popping all over the place to Ladyjustice’s delight! Not only that, but two very special events enhanced the overall experience.

As a memorial tribute to friend, colleague, mentor, homicide survivor, victim advocate and intimate partner homicide expert, Susan Murphy Milano, heart shaped lanterns took to the skies…. From the water’s edge and hotel balconies, one witnessed a long line of illumination floating to greet Susan in heaven. Working in teams of two, participants released lights of hope and love against the backdrop of crashing surf….such a soulful reminder of SMM’s presence that will forever live in our hearts. Monica Caison, Founder of the CUE Center also created a special passages award, presented by Delilah Jones on behalf of our beloved Susan Murphy Milano.

Secondly, the Candlelight Vigil at Riverfront Park was a tapestry of emotion.  Uplifting song, a little levity delivered by the MC, interspersed with the sobering fact that we were there to honor the missing and perhaps presumed dead, the beautiful yet shocking wall of victims, inspirational words and prayers by religious leaders… the heart wrenching stories of surviving family members, award presentations to wonderful volunteers, the finale ritual of lighting candles were contrasted by the bitter cold air and ONE THOUSAND HUGS AND TEARS…

Reflections of Selected Presenters and CUE Members…. (Just a Few Highlights) 

“Inspirational, raw, spoken from the heart with great pride and frequent tears shed.” Such is an accurate description of Marilyn Gambrell- a pioneer for “disposable children” of incarcerated family members;

“Effervescent, high energy, caring, very creatively visual, medically based and “a little preachy for your own good.” Such is the essence of Dr. Dalal Akoury with her incomparable style of conveying information;

“Tell it like it is, wounded, but far from defeated, caring and legally precise…” Michelle Cruz readily admits her hard knocks, using her personal experience to the best advantage to present and future victims of crime;

“A friendly, approachable, down home story teller, motherly, keen observer and investigator with a huge network of colleagues…” Sheryl McCollum uses her common sense and her instincts to accomplish amazing things, taking another look where others have not been as successful;

“A snappy dresser, legal eagle commentator who gets to the heart of the matter in the courtroom and in the spotlight of television and radio.”  Holly Hughes is hard hitting and can match wits with anyone, is a staunch advocate for crime victims and law enforcement as well;

“Such a gentleman, dedicated and skilled rescuer and sonar technician” (as well as coffee delivery man)

“Loving, “huggy” dedicated, law enforcement and missing persons advocate, animal rights activist with a heart of gold.”  Yup… that’s Connie Braddock;

“A petit ‘tiger in your tank,’ loving mother, searcher/rescuer and a “find a way around every obstacle” kind of person.”  Kelly Osborn is the epitome of fearless perseverance;

“Offering help, kindness, spiritual support when it really matters and many, many photos….    Lisa Valentino is the consummate friend and volunteer, a virtual fixture around “the CUE water cooler;”

“Feisty to the nth degree,  takes no crap from anyone, gifted and compassionate friend to all people involved in missing persons.“ Yes indeed, that’s our Monica!

We highly encourage all readers to become familiar with all of these movers and shakers for the missing.  Do it today…Do it tomorrow… Just do it!

Website:  http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/



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