by Linda Budzinski; We all like to feel as though we make a difference in our careers. For most of you, I imagine you do feel that way. The core purpose of your profession is to care for the dead and those who grieve their loss. Of course you make a difference.; As an association staffer, my sense of purpose is, shall we say, somewhat less obvious. At the core of my profession is the facilitation of education and networking, helping people “associate” with one another.; It’s an honorable career, for sure, but it’s hardly the same as being a firefighter or soldier or teacher or preacher or cemeterian or funeral director. Every once in a while, I have that crisis of conscience where I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Is this it? Is this all you’re going to do with your time and talents? Don’t you want to make a difference?”; But then I meet someone like Norm Connors.; Norm is a funeral director and certified celebrant at Bean Funeral Homes & Cremation in Reading, Pennsylvania, and is a member of the ICCFA’s Next Generation Steering Committee. I hung out with Norm last month in San Antonio at the NextGen Happy Hour. I was there to — you guessed it — facilitate networking. I introduced Norm to a few ICCFA newbies, and as is often the case with him, the conversation soon turned to the ICCFA University.; Norm attended the University in 2008 and 2009 and never misses an opportunity to share his enthusiasm for the program with any ICCFA member who will listen. “It changed my life,” he told these new folks. “I’ve been to it twice, and both times, I’ve come out a different person. I am definitely going back this year.”; Norm credited ICCFAU not only with helping him better perform his job, but with giving him a whole new perspective on his life, a whole new sense of purpose. He credited ICCFAU for a dramatic loss of weight two years ago, for a new self-image and, yes, for a new passion for funeral service.; I was gratified to hear Norm’s story, and I wasn’t entirely surprised. He’s not the first person who has used the term “life changing” to describe his University experience.; There’s also Ron Nestor, who five years ago, as a freshman at ICCFAU, was a grounds maintenance worker but who today is a career cemetery grounds manager, a member of the Massachusetts Cemetery Association’s board of directors and a newly designated Certified Cemetery Executive.; And there’s Allen Dave, who seven years ago was fresh out of mortuary school and new to funeral service after a successful career in the wedding industry. Today, Allen owns a successful Houston-area funeral home and cremation tribute center and is himself teaching at the University, sharing his lessons learned through wedding planning.; There are others, too. Each year, the evaluation sheets tell the story: “I am returning to my job with a new sense of purpose and responsibility.” “When I feel tired from long hours, I will use the memories of this time to motivate me to give more to the families we serve.” “I feel as though I finally have the tools I need.”; More than any educational program we hold here at the ICCFA, the University makes that kind of a difference. It changes lives. If you want to deepen your knowledge and understanding of this profession, or know someone on your staff who is ready to make a stronger commitment to their career, I urge you to do something with that potential! There is no better investment than in ourselves and in our people, and the University is a worthwhile investment indeed.; Registration is now open for the 2010 session of ICCFAU, July 23-28 at the University of Memphis. You can check out the full program schedule and register at; Don’t wait. Do it today. You’ll thank yourself on July 28.