Sunday morning at Friends for Life. Always a time for tears (happy and sad), hugs, selfies, group photos, thank you’s, and see-you-very-soons. Friends for Life 2018. See you next year!
Closing thoughts from Laura:
I just finished reading the report I wrote from Orlando 2017 – a year ago. I nodded and teared up and thought to myself, “Wow, I don’t know if I can say it any better than that for 2018.” FFL week, from year to year, day to day, and evening to evening, is so much the same.
And yet - it’s not. This year, to me, the conference felt more solid. The leaders at the helm of each program seemed clearer and more confident in their teams and direction. I believe this had to do with the huge amount of preparation and training to which every volunteer – coordinator, leader or staff level – committed. I also believe it hinged on the FFL training materials that were developed this year with the goal that every volunteer understands the mission, history, and structure of CWD. Consistency matters. A shared goal matters. Thriving with type 1 diabetes matters.
From your comments after the conference, a few very clear trends emerged:
- People of all ages were happy about the Wednesday programming. A lot more folks engaged in the sessions and activities than in past years. Many parents attributed this to having children’s programming available all day Wednesday. In response to your comments, next year we are hoping to offer full day programs on Wednesday for Elementary, Tween, and Teen age groups. We will also offer childcare, just as we do on Thursday and Friday, by pre-registration only. Wednesday will be a full conference day!
- People want more meet-ups. There were lots of suggestions for groups, places, and activities. Guess what? YOU are in charge of meet-ups. If there’s a meet-up you’d like to see on the day’s agenda, step up and plan it. I think it would be great to have a big Post-It board across from Registration with a list of the day’s Meet-Ups. People could add to it ad-lib through the week.
- Attendees would like more opportunities to have meals together. They miss Friday breakfast. They miss lunch on Saturday. We’ve done both of these in past years. Not including these meals is entirely money-related. Consider this: Each buffet breakfast at FFL costs about $50/person and each lunch about $60. A Friday morning breakfast at FFL would cost about $80,000; a Saturday lunch about $100,000. When Board members Stewart Perry and George Huntley talked about fund-raising during the banquet evening this year, these are the kinds of things they were thinking about. We know how important it is to have meals together ... we just need to find creative new ways to fund them. We need your ideas and help.
There are so many people I’d like to thank… actually, about 2,000 of them. Every person in that convention center contributes something that makes Friends for Life what it is – extraordinary. In no particular order other than where my brain is hopping as I write this:
Jo Stroud and Kristen Seiz – Our notorious food and beverage coordinators! You guys were amazing every step of the way. I know that you’re a little nervous about Chef Jay moving on, but together you’ve created such a solid base of menus, ingredients, and carb counts – it’s a legacy. You’ll be fine. I’m looking forward to 2019 and seeing what cool things you’ll create with Chef Rob.
Chelsea Carr and David Sutherland – thank you for joining us from the UK. You’ve learned from the best, and you were a great help. I hope you’ll join us next year as well!
Scott Kyllo, Martin Yaravitz, Bailey Meredith - Thank you for your week-long full time efforts in managing All Things IT this year. You were there setting up IT for Dr. Ben and the Retinal Screening Team on Sunday and you were back in South Registration breaking down computers and printers for Julia’s registration team the following Sunday – and everything in between. You guys covered a huge territory, and you were epic. New plans for next year, hopefully much less stressful. Chad Kyllo – you were missed!
FFL Support Team – I suspect most folks probably don’t know who you are – and that’s ok. You were there and very visible when needed, and in the background with watchful eyes at all other times. We felt safe and supported by your team, and I hope you realize how much Jeff and I appreciate that. Donna Cope and Cynthia Deitle – a special shout out to you for your help in developing our training materials.
The Social Media Team – Did you all know we have one this year? They were responsible for our online presence prior to, during, and after Friends for Life, and they’re amazing! Thank you to Kerri Sparling, Noor Alramahi, Carolyn Billetdeaux, Grace Grande-Cassell, Kathryn Hitchcock, Deb Ruppert, and Melissa Geren.
FFL Leaders – I so appreciate the weekend you take each year with us in January to begin concrete planning for the next year’s conferences. It’s not easy to get away from home and work, and I hope you know what a huge difference you make, whether you’re leading an age group or a function area. It gives me peace of mind knowing that you’re each at the helm and how much you care. Thanks for stepping up.
Age Group Volunteers – Whether you were brand new to our youth program or have been around the block with us a few times, every single person rolled up their sleeves and contributed to a hugely successful week. It’s not easy getting that week off from work or school or internship every July – and then paying your way to get to Orlando. But you do it, and you make the week an incredible experience for so many hundreds of kids. Thank you.
Ashley Head – Year after year, you fly across the Pond from the lovely town of Lewes in East Sussex, UK, to be in charge of the Orlando Friends for Life Exhibit Hall. The sponsors and exhibitors know you, the contracted work teams know you, Freeman knows you, and the families all know you. You keep the exhibit hall running like clockwork and herd all of the proverbial cats in one direction. You make it look easy; it’s not. Thank you for being here. We missed Shayne, Phoebe, and Jake. Next year?
Retinal Screening Team – Funny, when I first typed this, my computer auto-corrected to retinal ‘screaming’ team. I know that some moments during your very full week with such long, long hours seemed like that! Dr. Ben, Jim Stroud – team – you guys are all amazing and you provide such a priceless service to our kids and adults with type 1. Nowhere else on the planet can they get as comprehensive and cutting-edge measures as are included with a FFL Retinal Screening. Dr. Ben, please thank your medical students this year – they rocked.
Registration Team – There are a thousand moving pieces behind that South Registration desk and the back rooms that are Sierra 1 and 2. Nobody sees it because you make it all flow so smoothly! This year was very international, with Coordinator Julia Mattingly training Shari Michaelson (from Canada), and Gwen Sutherland (from the UK). Both these CWD moms are ready to assume the Registration lead position in their respective FFLs – well done to all of you. Julia and Brenda, I look forward to next year’s Badge Marathon Weekend in beautiful West Chester, Ohio!
Tom Karlya, David and Marie Jarcho, Lauren Lanning, Nabil Elarbi – Thank you for the warm and wonderful welcome offered to every single first timer and for your team’s efforts throughout the week to answer questions and help first timers figure out the FFL routine. Next year, we are going to shift the First Timers Orientation to Wednesday morning first thing. That just makes sense since Wednesday will now be a full day of sessions and children’s program activities. Marie – the First Timer Buddy program looked great this year! I’m looking forward to hearing your suggestions for 2019.
Brenda Hitchcock – Thank you for the hours and hours and hours of grant-writing. And proof-reading. And for once again being the FFL Queen of Signs (with an assist from Matt Pawlowski)!
Chris Kakol – Each year in early spring when I begin to pull photos together for the slide show, I’m in such a pickle. Which ones should I use – they’re all so great! You have the magic – the special touch that captures the essence of Friends for Life in photos. Thank you for joining us year after year, and for helping us remember the smiles, the hugs, the fun, the energy, and the love. You really are a FFL.
Sports Central – Liz and Jimmy Dodson, your team this year – and your program - was the best ever! I love the energy in Sports Central, and I love that we give kids and adults a fun and safe outlet to exercise, play, and be together in a different environment than meeting rooms. I think you’ve created the perfect mix of activities. Every single time I walked down to Sports Central, I was greeted with that wonderful combination of the sounds of laughter, kids yelling to each other, bouncing balls, music… and that great scent of sweaty fun. All essential!
FFL Faculty – Many of you have been with us for quite a few years. Some of you were brand new to FFL and CWD, coming from far distances. You helped us grow by presenting new research and new topics. Sometimes, you presented tried-n-true topics which are essential to those who are newly-diagnosed or those who need a thorough review of basics. Others presented the program for specific age groups, such as the wonderful Grandparents Program or the Emerging Adults track. We recognize that coming to FFL for a week takes you away from your research, families, and patients, and Orlando in July probably isn’t at the top of your vacation list. To all of you – heartfelt thanks for sharing your time and knowledge.
Board Members – CWD has never had a Board so present or visible. You care; it shows. We are just getting started together, and we will make sure Friends for Life is here as long as people need us to be. Onward!
CWD Fellows – Thank you for sharing a week with us to experience "type 1 in the wild." We hope that you will take your Friends for Life experience with you as you embark upon your career of caring for people living with diabetes.
Volunteers – Each year, there are roughly 200 individuals who volunteer their time at Friends for Life. They may work long hours and multiple days (such as our Room Captains) or short and focused hours (such as Banquet decorating or Quilt set-up). Each job is important, and each helps FFL be what it is – a unique experience built by all of us. Thank you.
Adults with T1 – Whether you’re college age or a bit older, thank you for sharing your needs candidly and helping Friends for Life grow. I appreciate your leap of faith in recognizing that an organization called Children with Diabetes can and does offer you a home base every July.
I’ll finish my thank you’s as I do every year ...
Neal Billetdeaux – You stayed home this year because you know how important it is to me that the house and pups are well watched over and cared for, and that I work better when I’m not worrying about that. You’re with me, even when you aren’t.
Jeff Hitchcock – Yes. Until we all wear orange bracelets.
Carolyn and Sam – Thank you for being the inspiration and the future. In my heart, it all starts with you.
See you all next year. Friends for Life, July 16-21, 2019, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.
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