What a wonderful weekend! The 10th annual National Gathering Conference was held last weekend June 9-11 in Kansas City and what a weekend it was! This year’s conference was particularly special – we celebrated 10 amazing years of this wonderful Gathering which was reflected in the conference theme “10 Years & Growing,” and throughout the conference.
The Gathering was created for adults living with arthritis and rheumatic diseases to gather together and learn from healthcare and patient experts how to live their best life. We all know living with arthritis is difficult, but at the Gathering we learn together how to combat life’s daily challenges.
One of the big highlights of the weekend was Saturday morning’s session featuring keynote speaker, actor Clark Middleton. Clark has been living with juvenile arthritis since age 4 and is very much aware of the challenges and adjustments we all make living with this disease. He spoke about the importance of empowerment and support from family and friends, and shared that his father Mel was his champion. Clark also reminded us all that engaging with the Foundation as a volunteer or advocate is critical so we can continue to make important strides. It was a phenomenal way to start the weekend! Clark is a great example and an inspiration to many – we are so lucky to call him a friend of the Foundation.
Arthritis Foundation President & CEO Ann Palmer took the stage before Clark to talk about our Arthritis Support Network growth, our wonderful volunteers and the nearly $40,000 they have raised this year, and she highlighted the many engagement opportunities available within the Foundation. Prior to Ann, Kevin Purcell, senior director, community support networks and National Gathering founder, spoke about his own journey with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. His journey and experience was the catalyst for starting this wonderful conference 10 years ago.
This year’s sessions were packed with information from trusted professionals – like Dr. McKernan’s Coping with Grief and Loss: How Mindfulness Can Help. Dr. McKernan’s session focused on mindfulness and how it can be used as a tool to help us with grief.
Overcoming Dating Challenges, another popular session, helped to teach us that dating is challenging for everyone – no really, it is! But acknowledging that adding physical challenges to dating can make it seem impossible. Our professional matchmaker taught us how to recognize and overcome the things that make dating difficult for us. With the proper mindset, you can overcome any challenge.
Throughout the weekend, another theme started to emerge. You could feel it in the sessions and our attendees were so enthusiastic about it – it was patient engagement. The patient voice is the most important voice – and it was clear that we wanted to hear from you! From our Patient-Centered Care / Shared Decision-Making session to our Advocacy focused talks, we want arthritis patients to gather with us to get more involved in their care and speak up. Our newly formed Patient Leadership Council (PLC) also met for the first time at the National Gathering. The PLC makes recommendations to the Foundation to ensure our programs and work include the patient voice.
It was a powerful weekend filled with fun and educational sessions. We are so grateful for everyone that came to grow with us. Please mark your calendar for next year’s Gathering – March 9 -12, 2018 in Arlington, VA. We hope to see you there!
After the conference ended, many of our attendees took to social media to share their experiences. Take a look at what a few of our attendees had to say about the conference:
Thank you to everyone at #Gathering10 for such a wonderful learning experience. I knew I would gain some knowledge, but I never guessed how much knowledge and friendships I would gain from a conference and excursion. Awesome is too tame a word!
Sun setting on the last day of the Gathering, there are no words to describe what a blessing this Conference has been to me…it was not only learning but fun too. The speakers were awesome and inspiring..lots of new friends made who have been there and know your struggles. We have cried, we have laughed we have encouraged each other and exchanged contact information. Sad to see it all end but anxious to get home to family and friends and to share what has been some of the best days I have had in a very long time!!
#Gathering10 counting the days till we do this again in March 2018 in Washington DC so looking forward to #Gathering11
What an amazing weekend with new friends and long-time friends!!! Many thanks to all the people who made #Gathering10 a phenomenal experience! As we head back into our daily lives, we can carry these new bonds and all that we learned with us. We all come away stronger and more empowered. We are family.