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Virtual Friends for Life Orlando 2020 Conference Report

A Look Back at Virtual Friends for Life Orlando 2020

From July 14 – 19, 2020, CWD held our first Virtual Friends for Life Orlando (VFFLO) conference, bringing families together in true CWD-style through the combination of video conferencing and the magic of Friends for Life.

By using Zoom video technology, our team of over 100 CWD staff and volunteers took five days of conference programming and created a virtual landscape to reflect our in-person events.

Adults with diabetes found space to share in our discussion groups, talking about everything from eating disorders, to parenting and pregnancy, to complications, and even finding community through the diabetes online community. Parents of children with diabetes joined open discussion groups where they could share their concerns and crowd-source support. And all families learned from world-renowned speakers, hearing the latest in research, technology, and community support. Each day of VFFLO offered sessions for adults and youth programming for the kids, providing support for everyone in your family. Looking to connect with friends, like you do when you walk through the hallways of the Coronado Springs resort in Orlando? We did our best to replicate those meeting places, having open Zoom rooms where families and friends could drop in and chat freely. We made sure to have our Info Desk open all week long, to help greet old Fiffles and to help new ones find their footing.

On Wednesday, we had a full day of programming, hosting focus groups for sponsors and informative sessions for adults. We had our First Timers Orientation at 9:00 am Eastern, sponsored by Dexcom, and several focus groups from VFFLO sponsors. We also had some terrific youth sessions to keep the kids engaged, informative programming for parents and adults, and hosted the Grand Opening of our Virtual Friends for Life Orlando 2020 Exhibition Hall.

… yes, we had an exhibit hall! This year, in an attempt to recreate the FFL Exhibit Hall, our generous sponsors and partners really upped their digital game, working with the CWD team to create a Virtual Exhibit Hall where VFFLO attendees could visit with sponsors, get the most current diabetes industry information, and have some fun.

On Thursday morning, we had our Richard Rubin Memorial Opening Keynote: What a Wonderful World with Shawn Shepheard, sponsored by Lilly Diabetes, programming for parents and adults, entertaining and educational sessions for the kids, Virtual Exhibit Hall hours to meet with our sponsors, and our Family and Friends Virtual Banquet, sponsored by Novo Nordisk, with music and dancing. (DJ Miles and his team kept us dancing all night long!)

Friday brought another full day of sessions for adults, closing out the day with a really fun - and silly - performance and live Q&A with country music star (and PWD) George Canyon, and the evening events, which include Posters with the Faculty, Family Movie Night, and a Virtual Mixology Session with the Omnipod team.

And the weekend also included a full day of sessions on Saturday, opening with advocacy sessions, psychosocial discussion groups (diabetes burnout, anyone?), and a Q&A with VIPWD, Mark Andrews. Our evening program celebrated Family Fun Night and our Prom-style dance for Teens only – COVID-19 didn’t stop the VFFLO party!

Sunday morning, we gathered as families - as a family - and shared our Farewell Breakfast together, sponsored by Medtronic.

While planning VFFLO, we had no idea if, or how, those connections would make their way through a computer screen. But by Wednesday, we were already hearing some stories of FFL magic. We heard First Timer Emily share a story of her daughter seeing a CWD staff member wearing an Omnipod: “To hear her exclaim from the other room ‘Mommy, come look! They’re just like me!’ brought me to tears!”

We started to see the connections in other places – when the teens took over Coronado Hallway and the Adults with Type 1 took over Fiesta. When the Family Banquet pictures were shared over social media and then the Dad’s happy hour extended well into the night. Then finally, when the tears started to fall at the Farewell Breakfast.

Friends for Life is the annual reminder that you are not alone.

An endless thank you to the volunteers, sponsors, staff, and families who came together to make this event happen. Yes, this year was unusual, and the challenges faced by our community are unprecedented, but that need for connection and support doesn’t go away when we are dealing with a pandemic. Instead, the needs of our community are magnified, and as a CWD family, we rose to meet those needs.

Thank you to our generous sponsors

Virtual Friends for Life Orlando was brought to you by the volunteers and staff of Children with Diabetes (T-1 Today, Inc.), a non-profit focused on caring today while preparing for the cure tomorrow. We kindly request that you please consider a donation so that we can continue to bring these conferences to you.

Your tax-deductible donation makes Friends for Life, and other CWD programs like it, happen. You can make a gift to Children with Diabetes at cwd.is/give.