Keynote Speakers


Charles Durrett

Charles Durrett, with Kathryn McCamant, introduced the concept of cohousing to the United States with the seminal book Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves. The latest edition is Creating Cohousing, Building Sustainable Communities. He has written several other books on cohousing, including Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living — The Handbook. Durrett and his team at The Cohousing Company / McCamant & Durrett Architects have designed more than 50 cohousing communities in the United States and around the world, including Muir Commons in Davis, California, the first cohousing community in North America. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, Architecture, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and many other publications. Prior to creating cohousing, Durrett worked with indigenous people in Africa for a year, moving indigenous villages into safer areas (away from floods, railway construction, etc.) During this time, he learned how to work effectively to bring positive solutions to societal challenges.

Chris Field

In life there are Dreamers and there are Doers. Some people, like Chris Field, are blessed to be both. Born in Houston, Texas in 1982, he knew early on that he was different. In grade school he befriended a young man (also named Chris), and kept him from being bullied and harassed. On a trip to visit an uncle in El Paso, his grandmother pointed out that the children just across the border in Mexico had much more difficult lives than he. His response to that became a metaphor for all that he has done since: “What if I just tape money to a rock and throw it across to them? Would that help?”, he asked. He has been figuratively throwing stones of disruption ever since. As a college freshmen, Chris ran for mayor of his hometown and finished third out of five candidates. He was encouraged to aim lower by the powers that be, but he aimed high anyway. There is something about stepping out like that. No matter the outcome, it emboldens us and tells us that we can. Chris launched Mercy Project in 2010 to combat child trafficking in Ghana’s fishing industry. To date, Mercy Project has rescued, rehabilitated, and reintegrated more than one hundred children back into their families. Chris is also a featured TEDTalk speaker and the author of the book, Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Change.


Bill Thomas

Named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top ten Americans shaping the future of aging, Dr. Bill Thomas is a Harvard-trained physician, author, performer and serial entrepreneur. For nearly 30 years, his work has focused on improving the health and well-being of older people – first with co-founding The Eden Alternative with his wife Jude Meyers Thomas in the early ’90s and followed by creation of the Green House™ model in the early 2000s. He is now focused on helping people of all ages live in the place and manner of their choosing. The simple design of Minka is based on research into human complexity and decades of input from some of our culture’s most vulnerable and valuable people. Dr. Thomas has distilled these insights into the Minka building system. The resulting homes and communities are optimized to help people move, eat, sleep and heal. Working with the University of Southern, Dr. Thomas and his team are developing a community-building model, MAGIC (Multi-Ability, multi-Generational, Inclusive Communities). Dr. Thomas is also the winner of the American Institute of Architects’ Decade Award for greatest influence over design.

Jane Whitlock

Jane Whitlock is a trained end-of-life doula, and a featured TEDTalk speaker on the subject of her work. But she didn’t start out that way. Originally, she was a middle school social studies teacher and a coach/Athletic Director. After her husband’s death from cancer, she began to see life differently. Jane became passionate about death on many levels.  She helps dying people and their caregivers prepare for what is to come on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. As a death educator, Jane hopes that everyone can begin to see that death is the ultimate partner in life. Death helps us to be grateful, present and make the most of our time here on earth.

Brian Van Buren

Brian Van Buren lives in Charlotte, NC and was diagnosed in 2015 with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 64. Seeing a need to put a new face on Alzheimer’s, Brian became an advocate as an Afro-American living with the condition. Brian has been a featured speaker on numerous radio shows and conferences. In 2017, he served as a member of the National Alzheimer’s Association early onset advisory group. Brian is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Dementia Action Alliance and is committed to building awareness for people of color and the LGBT community.