FFL Orlando 2017 Horiz 2

Report from Sunday

Sunday morning at Friends for Life. Always a time for tears (happy and sad), hugs, selfies, group photos, thank you’s, and see-you-very-soons. Friends for Life 2017. See you next year!

Closing thoughts from Laura:

As I write this report, it’s two weeks after returning from Orlando, and the images and voices and stories from our week together are beginning to sort themselves in my brain into whole segments of experiences linked together into the one week that is Friends for Life. I imagine that for you all, it’s somewhat the same. We each met so many people – hundreds and hundreds of them. We exchanged hugs ... lots of hugs. We laughed and cried and raged together. We took thousands of photos, and we shared them on Facebook and Instagram for all the world to see. We shared so much that we could be – we are – family.

For me, there was an overwhelming sense that ‘everything is moving forward.’ In a good way. Friends for Life is growing up. The toddlers I knew in the first years of FFL are now staff. Some are getting married. Or engaged. Or having kids. Many of the staff who started Friends for Life with me back in 2001 have gotten a second wind and are refocusing energies in other areas of FFL growth, so that we can expand what we offer in ever more meaningful directions. We’ve just spent a week THRIVING with diabetes, as someone we know and love likes to say. Yes, I borrowed that line from Jeff.

I find myself thinking exactly what I thought last year: The last day of Friends for Life is the culmination of thousands upon thousands of hours of planning and effort by hundreds of people. I count myself as extraordinarily lucky to be able to stand at the front of this particular parade. It is an honor.

Before closing the book on this year and beginning in earnest on next year’s FFL, I want to acknowledge the following truly amazing and gifted people… in no particular order except the flow of my brain as I think about the conference and write this final note.

Youth Program Leaders – You’ve spent hundreds of hours planning and meeting in order to provide the very best experience to both your staff volunteers and the groups of kids lucky enough to spend the week with you. Very simply, you rock. Thank you for all the love and energy.

Youth Program Staff – For many of you, this was your first year volunteering. You’re new to the adult world at 18 or maybe 19, and you chose to volunteer this year as a way to give back. That says an awful lot. For others, you’ve been staff for years, and you keep bringing back your love and commitment to share with the kids. That speaks volumes as well. Thank you.

Scott Kyllo – I think during the past year I’ve managed to find you on every continent when I was in an “I-need-my-IT-guy” situation. You do get around! At the same time, you always drop what you’re doing to help out, and you are so very appreciated. I’m really glad that you’ve developed such an A-Team: Martin Yaravitz, Chad Kyllo, Bailey Meredith. You’re all stars.

Ash Head – The Exhibit Hall and everything in it is your Realm. I’m so grateful that a decade ago, you stepped forward and said, “I know how to do this – why don’t you let me take it over?” You sure did – and it’s yours… forever. It was so great to having Shayne, Phoebe, and Rory with us this year! Please bring them all back next year.

Our incredible food and beverage team: Jo Stroud, Kristen Seiz, Kathryn Hitchcock, Chef J, Chef Jeramy – you all totally outdid yourselves this year. I know that you’re already working on next year’s menus, keeping what you liked and beginning to modify what perhaps you feel didn’t work so well. Most folks have no idea the level of detail that is involved with what your team does to provide the carb counted meals and snacks for FFL. Thanks for your special attention to food allergies. You kept people safe and gave parents peace of mind. And may I add ... YAY Mickey Bars!

Retinal Screening Team – Jim Stroud and Dr. Ben, thank you for your dedication and leadership of this team. The screenings get better each year in terms of process, equipment, and the services we are able to offer to kids and adults with type 1. Nowhere else in the world can someone be screened with this level of depth and precision. You two, along with your incredibly dedicated team, make this happen.

Chris Kakol – photographer extraordinaire – I don’t know how you do it, year after year, getting the best photos ever. You capture the very best FFL moments. Thanks for spending a week with us each July, and for already re-upping for 2018.

Julia Mattingly – Hey Y’All! I can hear your voice any time I picture the registration counter. Your team includes some of the most welcoming, friendly faces – and most organized individuals in FFL-world. You take 800 big yellow registration envelopes and 2,000 name badges and a full week schedule, and help each person – whether attendee, exhibitor, or sponsor - make sense of it. What a talented bunch. Can’t wait to see your faces at South Registration next July.

The Grands Team – you all had some new faces this year, and by all accounts the Grands program was superb. I believe one of the best compliments I heard was from a grandparent after one of your sessions: “It was the first time I could cry. And then I could talk. And learn.” ‘Nough said.

Tom Karlya, Lauren Lanning, David and Marie Jarcho, Nabil Elarbi – the First Timers team. You welcome deer-in-the-headlights, nervous first-timers, and you make them feel right at home. It’s magic. I love watching you work. Many thanks as well to all the folks who volunteered a few hours throughout the week staffing the First Timers Welcome area. You made a difference in someone’s First Day. That’s so important.

Sports Central – Liz and Jimmy Dodson, every year you and your team manage to make Sports Central better. Whether it’s the mix of staffing, the special guests, the new equipment, the games… I don’t know what the ‘magic’ is, but it’s there. This year, Sports Central was always packed with noisy, happy, active, sweaty kids and adults. Every minute until the doors closed on Saturday afternoon! That is success.

FFL Support Team – “You were invisible – until we needed you.” Someone said that to me during the conference when they needed assistance – they knew that the FFLST was present and watching over everything, and keeping things as they should be at Friends for Life. You were there and visible with black polo shirts and smiley pins – a resource when needed. We so appreciate you. You give me peace of mind, which is huge at an event like FFL. Donna and Bob Cope and Chris Tull, thanks for taking the helm and organizing the week. Support team members – I know you like to keep a low profile, so I won’t call you out. Just know that you have my gratitude. And a hug.

FFL Faculty – Many of you have been around the block with us a few times. About a third of you were brand new to FFL and CWD. Some of you were in brand new roles and exploring new territory. We recognize that coming to FFL for a week takes you away from your research, families, and patients, and Orlando in July probably isn’t at the top of your vacation list. To all of you – heartfelt thanks for sharing your time and knowledge.

Volunteers – Each year, there are roughly 200 individuals who volunteer their time at Friends for Life. They may work long hours and multiple days (such as our Room Captains) or short and focused hours (such as Banquet decorating or Quilt set-up). Each job is important, and each helps FFL be what it is – a unique experience built by all of us. Thank you.

T1 Adults – Thanks for sharing your needs candidly and helping us to grow. I appreciate your leap of faith in recognizing that an organization called Children with Diabetes can and does offer you a home base every July.

Brenda Hitchcock – Unexpected Hero. You do whatever is needed precisely when it’s needed, and you are one of the most helpful people I know. Thank you for all you do, not just during FFL, but every single day as the First Mom of CWD.

Neal Billetdeaux – You stayed home this year because you know how important it is to me that the house and pups are well watched over and cared for, and that I work better when I’m not worrying about that. You’re with me, even when you aren’t.

Jeff Hitchcock – Yes. Until we all wear orange bracelets.

Carolyn and Sam – Thank you for being the inspiration and the future. In my heart, it all starts with you.

See you all next year. Friends for Life, July 10-15, 2018, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.