Over the weekend, Indianapolis, Indiana played host to the second location of the two 2017 National Juvenile Arthritis Conferences. The Arthritis Foundation welcomed almost 1,000 kids, teens, young adults and their families to an exciting and spirited weekend of education, networking and fun.
For the second year in a row, the Arthritis Foundation hosted two JA Conference locations to serve more kids, families and young adults affected by JA and related childhood rheumatic diseases across the country, while also welcoming back returning veteran families. More than 60 percent of Indianapolis attendees were able to experience the JA Conference for the first time and came from 39 US states, Puerto Rico and Canada.
“The Arthritis Foundation’s JA Conference has been bringing families together for 33 years now, not only to celebrate our individuality and uniqueness, but also to re-charge, be motivated, learn as much as we can and fortify our collective power. We’re a mighty force, absolutely,” said Katy Carter, the 2017 JA Conference Volunteer Chair.
“The JA Conference is where my family is able to reunite with our JA Family and can take a break from some of the stress we often experience.” Katy continues, “I hope that every single attendee here this weekend gets the same opportunity to relax and find comfort with peers that understand – that get it.”
Kids and teens were treated to their own specialized programming including activities, educational sessions and play time on their own “warrior” course. Among all of the programs throughout the weekend, kids had an opportunity to learn about advocacy and telling their story effectively, an art project and a visit from some very special animals from the local zoo. Teens were treated to a Young Adult panel, teen transition programming and other activities such as modified yoga and self-defense.
At the same time, parents took part in general sessions, hearing first from Arthritis Foundation President and CEO, Ann Palmer about the Foundation’s commitment to conquering JA. The sessions also featured two renowned physicians, Susmita Kashikai-Zuck, MD, PhD and Mary Ciccarelli, MD, on the topics of pain management and resiliency in managing childhood rheumatic diseases. Breakout sessions throughout the day – from disease-specific sessions hosted by top health care experts to discussing educational rights in schools and transitioning from adolescent to adult medicine.
On Sunday morning, attendees showed off their Walk to Cure Arthritis and Jingle Bell Run team shirts while enjoying breakfast and visiting fundraising exhibits. As the Foundation gears up for a fun and festive Jingle Bell Run season, attendees were able to learn more about effective fundraising techniques.
After dropping their kids and teens off one last time, Moms, Dads and Young Adults each had their own opportunity to share their reflections on the weekend in closed group sessions.
The closing session featured keynote speaker, Adam Vigil, of Anaheim, California, who bravely and passionately told his family’s story of becoming a JA Warrior Family and giving back to the Arthritis Foundation. After an eight-and-a-half-month diagnostic journey, including five misdiagnoses, Adam and Gwen’s daughter Saige finally received a conclusive diagnosis of systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis – a disease the Vigil’s had never heard of.
By chance and good fortune, Gwen found a flyer for the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk to Cure Arthritis in Orange County and joined the event, determined to meet another child with JA. It was there that they met another family – an “angel” that spoke to them about their own daughter’s diagnosis of SJIA, the medications they have tried and about the upcoming JA Conference that summer.
“When we returned to California [from our first JA Conference] we stopped asking “why” and started asking “how”. How can we make an impact? How can we add to this JA Family? How can me give back to the Arthritis Foundation? And most of all, how can we make it so no other families would have to go through what we went through. We became a Warrior Family. We immersed ourselves into the Arthritis Foundation – we volunteered any chance we got – we were at every function.”
Adam is currently a member of the Orange County/Inland Empire Local Leadership Board in southern California and has led the Dad’s networking and breakout sessions at the JA Conference for the past few years.
By tradition, the 2018 JA Conference locations were revealed by incoming 2018 Volunteer Chair, Kate Kuhns.
“In 2018, we will continue to grow our JA Family by offering two great conference locations; Bellevue, Washington, and a return to Washington D.C. Everyone’s journey is different – but coming to conference is like coming home – it’s a place to recharge, find solitude and yourself. It’s a safe place to find your hope, strength, and love. JA Conference is the best family reunion one can attend – we didn’t ask to be in this family but we welcome all who come with open arms,” said Kate.
The conference closed with a rousing “flash mob” of teens and young adults, led by volunteer leader Jennifer Horonjeff and Arthritis Foundation JA Teen Transition Director, Jennifer Ziegler. And with that, the 2017 JA Conferences officially came to a close!
The Arthritis Foundation would like to thank ALL of the attendees of the 2017 JA Conferences in both Houston and Indianapolis, as well as the 2017 National Presenting Sponsor – AbbVie, Supporting Sponsors – Novartis, Genentech and Additional Generous Sponsors – Medac Pharma, Alpha Omicron Pi.
Save the dates for the 2018 JA Conferences. We hope to see you there!
JA Conference – Seattle
June 28-July 1, 2018
Hyatt Regency Bellevue on Seattle’s Eastside
JA Conference – Washington DC
August 2-August 5, 2018
Grand Hyatt Washington
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