June 29, 2020

Dear GAEL Members:

When the GAEL Board of Directors hired me last year, I did not think in a million years I would ever be sending our leaders this letter, but here we are. Unfortunately, it appears things did not go our way in the past few weeks, and I informed the GAEL Executive Board this past weekend that it is my recommendation that we cancel the Summer GAEL Conference next month for the safety of all of our members and sponsors and their families. And for the reputation and future of GAEL.

Long story short, there is a spike of COVID-19 cases in Glynn County (and in the state) right now, which makes the threat of the virus to the health of you and your families a lot more serious than it was even two weeks ago. Further, there are currently restaurant closures in St. Simon’s and now in Jekyll Island. Even for those of you who are not concerned about the virus, we would not be able to guarantee that we would logistically be able to care for everyone’s physical needs and comfort if we have continued COVID closures on the islands in their restaurants, stores, or in the Convention Center kitchen after the busy July 4th holiday.

Please know these food-service businesses are honorably closing voluntarily, sometimes over one single case, out of an abundance of caution to ensure they keep their patrons safe. But even then, the idea of bringing 1000 people to Jekyll and then having restaurant or food service closures happen while on the island did not seem like the wisest or safest course of action. It just isn’t worth the risk, and we don’t think it would be responsible leadership to go forward. In my opinion, if GAEL stands for leadership and leaders, part of leadership is doing the right thing even if it hurts…and putting our members’ safety ahead of everything else.

Registration Cancellation and Processing:
If you are registered for the GAEL summer conference, you don’t have to worry and there is nothing you need to do! We will take care of your registration cancellation and do all the work for you. All registrants will receive a communication from GAEL within the next 7 business days, and your registration will be automatically canceled and processed according to the cancellation contingency plan we shared upon your registration. If you are a vendor/sponsor, you will receive a separate communication from Pat Myers regarding your vendor registration.

One more thing. Even though I am pretty doggone disappointed that we cannot have the conference, please do not confuse my disappointment with a lack of optimism for the future. In many ways, the pandemic has helped us all become stronger and more agile…and more relevant. Make no mistake…GAEL will be stronger when all this is said and done…if we stick together. We have much to learn and tackle in the next year, so it is vital we keep the fires burning for Professional Learning, Networking, and Advocacy!

I welcome all feedback from any of you, and I appreciate your understanding. Thank you for helping us all be GAELSTRONG in 2020-2021!

Sincerely,

Robert “Buddy” Costley
GAEL Executive Director