Over two long weekends in mid-July and early August, about 1,800 participants made their way to Houston, Texas, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, to take part in the 2019 National Juvenile Arthritis Conference. As in previous years, the Arthritis Foundation offered two JA Conference locations to serve even more kids, families and young adults across the country affected by childhood rheumatic diseases while also welcoming back returning veteran families.This year, more than 40 states were represented, including some families from Mexico and Canada. In both cities, more than half of conference participants were first-time attendees, experiencing everything the four-day conference had to offer. Kids and teens were treated to their own specialized programming, including peer-led activities, educational sessions and fun social happenings.
At the same time, parents choose their own breakout sessions throughout the day — from disease-specific sessions hosted by top doctors and health care experts to topics like educational rights in schools and transitioning from adolescent to adult medicine. Plenty of networking opportunities were available for female and male caregivers to connect and socialize with one another.
Young adults ages 18-25 also participated in their own program throughout the weekend, covering subjects such as mental health and wellness, relationships and patient engagement strategies. Guided by volunteer leaders, young adults were also able to participate in panels and speak to parents and teens, giving a positive glimpse into their own futures. The young adults group planned their own social activities and had a “night in” to hang out and network among their group.
On Saturday at each conference location, JA Awards were presented to a physician, youth leader, parent and health care professional who show exceptional leadership and commitment to the JA community. This year’s winners were: Paige Goehner, Dawn Hafeli Award for Youth Leadership; Staci Scharnhorst, Patti Rettig Award for Health Care Professional Leadership; Dr. Richard Vehe, Earl Brewer Award for Physician Leadership; and DiAnna Wilson, Kathy Angel Award for Parent Leadership.
This year, for the first time, a new award named in honor of Steve and Liz Smith was presented to Michael and Rochelle Lentini of Tampa, Florida, for their many years of volunteer service to the JA Conference and JA community. In 2015, Rochelle chaired the JA Conference in Orlando, and has since helped shape programming for kids and teens. Michael has played an integral role in the dad sessions and onsite support at each conference.
A huge thank you to ALL attendees of the 2019 JA Conference in Houston and Minneapolis, as well as JA Conference Chairs Bob and Jennifer Tonning; special guests Meg Maley, Paige Goehner and Koo Koo Kanga Roo, plus the planning committee, onsite volunteers, subject matter experts, physicians and guest speakers.