2024 Leadership Retreat: Crafting the Future of Friends for Life

January 23, 2024

The Children with Diabetes team just wrapped up our annual Friends for Life Leadership Retreat Weekend and we can’t wait to share some of our highlights from this very important planning weekend. From planning meetings to visits to our storage units for inventory, this weekend was packed from beginning to end. So, let’s grab our refillable mugs and meet on a cozy chair in the hallway, and recap the Retreat!

Each year in January, the CWD Team meets in Orlando to begin the planning process for our annual Friends for Life conferences. Joining us at the retreat are members of our amazing conference Volunteer Leadership Team. Each year, we have a mission-critical focus and theme that helps guide our discussions and group activities. This year’s focus was on revamping and resetting our youth program curriculums. In addition to planning for our annual conferences, we also have important meetings with Disney cast members, and conduct inventory in our Orlando storage units to determine what supplies may be needed for the year ahead.

On Friday, the CWD Staff had an in-person weekly staff meeting that included a team-based annual goal and objective setting. Retreat weekend participants started to arrive and the hallways of Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort became alive with the familiar sights and sounds of Fiffle hugs and well wishes. As everyone was getting settled in our home away from home, the CWD Staff continued important meetings with the Disney Entertainment Group (the people that help to provide the fun, games, and characters for our conference events) and with the Chef, who will help to oversee our conference meals. Volunteers enjoyed dinner on their own and met up later in the Dahlia Lounge for some end-of-the-evening hugs.

On Saturday, our Leadership Retreat kicked off with an All-Group Meeting and presentation from CWD’s President, Founder, and CEO, Jeff Hitchcock, and CWD Treasurer, George Huntley. At this meeting, we discussed the CWD forecast for the year ahead and recapped the amazing events and conferences that took place in 2023. Matt Point (CWD’S Director of Advancement and Programs) and Ashlyn Mills (CWD’s Events and Programs Manager) helped set the stage for the weekend ahead and helped us understand key agenda items and objectives for our working group meetings. Marissa Town (CWD’s Clinical Director), Jen Hanson (CWD’s Youth Program Coordinator), and I explained our overarching goal for the weekend: Youth Program Curriculum Refresh. This Retreat topic came as a result of feedback from conference attendees and conference volunteers in surveys collected at the end of our 2023 conferences. We updated our curriculum to reflect current ISPAD guidelines and ADA guidelines so that our educational content would be age-appropriate and reflective of diabetes today. Additionally, we asked that each programming area develop year-to-year activity outlines (over a three-year period) with new activities and new goals and objectives that fit into six different broad diabetes-based categories. Finally, we committed to providing support to our “orange team” during conference programming (participants who love someone with diabetes—either a sibling, friend, parent, or significant other).

During the Retreat weekend, we were joined by photographer Chris Kakol (our friend who joins us each year in Orlando and takes all of the amazing conference photographs). Chris helped us to complete the first phase of a digitization project with our “Quilt for Life.” For those of you who have attended Friends for Life for a long time, you may remember the quilt display in the back of the exhibit hall. The Quilt for Life project was launched in the spring of 2002 with the goal of raising awareness about diabetes. In addition to being shown in our own FFL exhibit hall, the quilts were shown at the 2005 Scientific Sessions of the ADA in San Diego and also on the National Mall in Washington, DC. CWD has over 780 quilts created by CWD families across the world! These quilts have been carefully stored in one of our storage units in Orlando in large custom-built storage boxes. CWD has decided to digitize the quilts and create an online gallery of the quilts so that they can be enjoyed by visitors of the CWD webpage and from people near and far. Stay tuned for more information about the digital quilt display and the return of quilts to their original owners!

Our very busy Retreat Saturday concluded with a Happy Hour and Dine Around for all participants. It was great to be able to relax with our Fiffles and recap on lessons learned during the first day of our planning sessions. Participants were divided into randomly selected small groups for dinner and headed out to various Disney properties for great food and even better conversations. After finishing up the first day, we headed to bed with full hearts and an even bigger agenda for day two on Sunday.

On Sunday, Retreat participants reconvened for sharing, observations, and questions about content covered during our first day of the retreat. Carolyn Billetdeaux (CWD Volunteer Coordinator) and Jen Hanson led a group meeting focused on selecting ideal volunteers for each programming area during our three annual conferences. Did you know that we have received over 300 volunteer applications for approximately 180 volunteer positions? We had breakout sessions and more meetings to continue carefully curating our conference curriculum, activities, and reading through volunteer applications. At the conclusion of the Retreat day, we met together as a large group and had group presentations highlighting one new activity that each programmatic area was excited about for the year ahead.

When it was time to pack our suitcases and store our laptops for our return trips home, we left the Retreat excited about 2024. I know that conference participants are going to love the new activities that we have planned for this year. It’s always so great to be surrounded by our Fiffles, and this weekend was exactly what we needed to fill our hearts and our diabetes toolkits until we meet again in Falls Church.

Until there’s a cure, there’s Friends for Life.

Green and Orange Forever,

Written by Leigh Fickling, JD, MEd, MS