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Empowered Advocates of All Ages Share Their Stories at the Advocacy Summit

Anna and Graci Diggs are on their way home. And they feel pretty good.

Anna and Graci are from Tipton, Missouri, and, along with 388 other people from all parts of the country, they traveled to Washington, D.C., March 14-15, for the Arthritis Foundation’s Advocacy Summit.

“We came to Advocacy Summit because we are dealing with some issues with my daughter’s arthritis that can be changed here at the Capital,” said Anna. “So we feel it’s important that our voices be heard. Hopefully we can make a difference.”

Graci is 10-years-old and has juvenile polyarticular arthritis.

The two-day event started on Monday with welcome remarks by Ann Palmer, president and CEO of the Arthritis Foundation, who was followed by Sandie Preiss, vice president of Advocacy & Access, who introduced attendees to the advocacy program and key issues that would be discussed. Christopher Kush, CEO of the political consulting group, Soapbox, walked guests through a lively do’s and don’ts of communicating with legislators.

The afternoon was spent in educational workshops that covered everything from how to leverage social media in advocacy to discussions regarding the nationwide severe shortage of pediatric rheumatologists, arthritis in the military and related Department of Defense funding, and the Congressional Arthritis Caucus.

The highlight of the day was the Honoring Our Advocacy Champions Awards Dinner, sponsored by Pfizer. Hannah Robison, 2015 Miss Tennessee, entertained the crowd with a striking piano performance and later received the Emerging Leader in Advocacy Award. Mason Merager also received an Emerging Leader in Advocacy Award and spoke about the importance of using your voice to increase awareness. Angela Young received the Edward M. Kennedy Advocacy Award and was surprised by a letter from Representative Andy Barr (R-KY-6) commending her work as an advocate. Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) and Chris Collins (R-NY-27) received the Arthritis Foundation Advocacy Leadership Award for co-introducing and championing H.R. 1859, Ensuring Children’s Access to Specialty Care Act of 2015, that will address the shortage of pediatric rheumatologists by creating a student loan forgiveness program. The evening concluded with recognition of 28 Platinum Ambassadors for their outstanding work in advocating for people living with arthritis.

On Tuesday, the atmosphere was electric as Summit attendees were excitedly preparing themselves to meet with members of Congress and deliver 1,800 letters to legislators that were received through the Virtual Summit. More than 225 meetings were scheduled throughout the day.

Gracie Kyleigh at the Summit
Kyleigh O’Brien and Graci Diggs visit Capital Hill for meetings at the Arthritis Foundation Advocacy Summit.

This was Graci and Anna’s first time at Advocacy Summit and meeting with Congress. They were joined by Janet and Kayne O’Brien and their daughter, Kyleigh, from Columbia, Missouri. Kyleigh is 10-years-old and has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

The O’Brien and Diggs families met with representatives from the offices of Sen. Claire McCaskil (D-MO-42) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO-7), then Sen. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO-4). During their visits, they shared their personal arthritis stories and asked their Congress members to support H.R. 1859, establish a dedicated $20 million Department of Defense fund for arthritis programs and research, and, if they weren’t members already, to join the Congressional Arthritis Caucus.

Kyleigh Gracie at Arthritis Summit Capital Hill MeetingsNow that the Summit is over, Anna and Graci are making the long trek home and strategizing for their next advocacy adventure.

“I’m pumped,” said Anna. “I’m so ready to go home and share my story with anyone who will listen. I’m even more excited to see my state legislators and tell them that we’re not just a one-stop-wonder here – that we’re going to keep on telling our story until they hear us loud and clear!”

You can make sure that your story is heard loud and clear too. And, by doing so, you’ll be helping the 50 million American adults and 300,000 kids who have arthritis. Join the Arthritis Foundation’s Advocate program today!

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2 thoughts on “Empowered Advocates of All Ages Share Their Stories at the Advocacy Summit

  1. Dear Anna and Graci,
    I hear your voices. I was born with arthritis and now that i am 61 years old I too will fight to make sure that drugs and therapies are made available for all.

    Keep fighting and keep saying Yes for all that suffer with this disease.

  2. So proud to be apart of the summit. My W.Va. people were thrilled with all the news I brought back for them. They were very glad W.Va. was represented. Thanks again

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