Hundreds of Arthritis Foundation volunteers, donors and partners converged on Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 16-17, to celebrate the year’s successes and roll up their sleeves to begin shaping plans that will accomplish even more in 2018. Participants at the 2017 Conference of Champions left the Valley of the Sun with a renewed passion for fighting arthritis harder than ever in communities nationwide.
The conference opened with Arthritis Foundation President and CEO Ann Palmer thanking volunteers, donors and corporate and organizational partners for making the choice to get personally involved in our work to conquer arthritis. She highlighted several major achievements during the past year:
- Together, we meaningfully participated in health care reform discussions to ensure those with chronic diseases remain visible and at the forefront.
- Collectively, we raised funds to change the progression, prognosis and future of the disease.
- We welcomed new attendees to our events, and our face-to-face Arthritis Support Networks grew by more than 70 percent, now offering programs in more than 50 communities around the U.S.
- As a cause leader energizing a powerful community, we are convening the brightest minds and putting patients at the center of science.
Palmer went on to talk about creating a movement that outshines the dark shadow arthritis casts. A movement that demands arthritis be acknowledged as the life-altering disease it really is, while also helping more people understand the anger, loss and pain arthritis causes.
Among our primary goals for 2018 is to do a better job of providing a community experience to those who come to us for information. We’re going to not only help people faster, but also stay with them on their journey through a more intuitive web experience, relevant on-the-go content in our new Live Yes! mobile app, and other support that helps nurture them along the way. Volunteers will play a bigger role, too, welcoming people into our community – while helping them find what they need and connecting them to experts.
As president and CEO of the National Health Council, an association the Arthritis Foundation works closely with, Marc Boutin shared his perspective on the state of health care and the importance of bringing patients and health care experts together to create better outcomes. Dr. Bruce Marshall, an executive at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, joined us in a discussion about arthritis patients being crucial contributors to arthritis care and treatments as we move forward.
Several learning labs gave attendees the opportunity to learn more about a variety of topics, such as: strategies to make arthritis more top-of-mind among legislators; ways to empower and connect local families living with childhood arthritis; methods to recruit committed volunteers who lead the charge for fundraising events; and tips for raising more dollars. Thursday concluded with our traditional Evening of Honors celebration, hosted by our favorite stand-up comedian and host of “American Ninja Warrior,” Matt Iseman. Throughout the evening, we saluted some of the Foundation’s leading volunteers and partners.
Friday got underway with singer and actress Ana Villfañe sharing her story about growing up with juvenile arthritis and how support from the Arthritis Foundation propelled her career, which has soared the past two years as she starred in the hit Broadway musical, “On Your Feet!” In addition, we shared plans for new campaigns that will increase awareness of arthritis and raise money for breakthrough endeavors that promise to change the trajectory of this life-altering disease.
Author Andrea Avery closed the event by describing her experiences growing up as an aspiring pianist even after she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 12, chronicled in her book, “Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano.” Then Avery was privileged to introduce a lifelong idol: 89-year-old classical pianist Byron Janis, who was stricken by the disease in the prime of his famed career, yet overpowered it – and still performs today, as he did for this audience.
Everyone left the Conference of Champions on a high note, their passion for our purpose reinvigorated – and with renewed optimism that we’re on the right path to making even bigger gains in 2018. What participants take back home with them is bound to go far in bringing significant successes to reality, in one community after another across the country.