Voices Coming Together – In-person!
In thinking about the success of the OAC in 2012, we must highlight the Inaugural Your Weight Matters Convention. Though a recent success, the framework for the Convention has really been building for the past seven and a half years. But, 2012 was THE year that this dream of the OAC finally became a reality.
In late October, we hosted 275 attendees from 34 states at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Texas, where we brought together our members and followers and provided diverse evidence-based education, along with the irreplaceable experience of having our members and supporters surrounding us. Words cannot describe the pride we all felt with the Convention. But, what’s most important to demonstrate to each and every OAC member and supporter, regardless if you attended the Convention, is how YOUR voice made this endeavor possible and how your persistence to challenge the OAC to grow helped us host a ground-breaking event that the community is still talking about.
Serving as Chair to this event was one of the biggest honors of my professional life. This event was something I’ve personally wanted as an OAC member for years. In fact, I distinctly remember while serving on the OAC’s Advisory Board sending an email to the OAC’s Director of Membership, Kristy Kuna [she is now the Director of Programs and Membership] asking if anything like this existed. After searching, I found the email dated August 30, 2010: “Also, out of curiosity, does the OAC ever hold annual meetings or anything ‘in real life’ that advisory board members can attend?” Little did I know at the time, I would not only come to serve as a National Board member, but I would have the privilege of helping plan the OAC’s first event where we invited members to “Explore. Discover. Empower.”
In making the decision as a Board to host a Convention in 2012, I was quick to learn that I wasn’t the only OAC Voice asking for a meeting of this kind. Really since the OAC’s inception, it has been the hope of many of our members and followers to have an in-person OAC meeting. With this, I knew as the Chair of the Convention that we did not want to disappoint.
The foundation of the OAC mission is empowering our membership. We strive to do this through education, advocacy, and support. The Convention became a place where all three came to life. The Committee created a program agenda of 18 educational sessions with the country’s leading experts. But what’s unique about this is that the foundation was actually designed by the VOICE OF THE MEMBERS. The committee was able to narrow our focus because we had surveyed YOU on what you wanted to learn more about. While we couldn’t fit each and every topic on our list, we knew that the 2012 meeting would be a starting point and that we would have the opportunity to address more topics in the years to come.
The Convention began with a day-long National Advocacy Training session where our members not only learned the basics, but got to practice doing mock legislative visits, complete with mock legislators. We were just a few hours into the Convention and I was already able to see the POWER of our meeting and the voices in the room. As part of my character role as a mock legislator I asked the trainees, “Well, wouldn’t we be better off if we invested in making sure Americans didn’t become overweight in the first place?” A training attendee looked me square in the eye and said, “But that does not help the millions of Americans who are already overweight or obese and need treatment.” She, of course, was correct. She pitched the mock bill and in truth, would have done extremely well in representing the OAC on the Hill. And with that, we were able to see a voice in action and can now call on this member to help us on Capitol Hill when necessary.
All Convention long, part of the JOY I recognized in the faces of attendees and myself was from that shared AHA MOMENT. The OAC was able to empower by giving unbiased, expert education. As an elementary school teacher, I thought I was used to seeing that aha moment since 8-year-olds tend to (thankfully) have them quite often, but it was truly different seeing adults hear something new about issues that profoundly impact their health.
I’d have to say that my favorite part of the Convention was getting to meet so many fellow OAC members and making new friends. The opportunity to talk to others about your own truth is POWERFUL. I think it also gave our attendees the chance to finally share themselves and their voices with others. I sat as an expert at both Friday and Saturday’s “Lunch with the Experts” as a gastric band patient. Our lunch became a support group, which many of us didn’t really have. Like everything in the Convention, it seemed like the lunch took the form it NEEDED to take. The attendees had structures in place to make it into what they needed to know; they were able to create their own discussions as a place to discover.
Throughout our educational sessions, attendees were given the toolbox to address their health and empower their voices, creating immeasurable credentials. The access to answers regarding health seems like it should be a right, but in truth, is treated as a privilege. I sensed relief in the room. That relief came from seeing people who looked like we did and from answers to our questions. It was education; it was the OAC MISSION in ACTION.
Taking a look back at the Convention just makes me want to do it all over again (and we will, soon!), but I think what the experience can be best summed up as is a true testament to how far we have come as an organization. This effort would not have been possible if the OAC’s voice hadn’t grown as much as it has in the past several years. It also wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our sponsors, exhibitors and supporters. But what makes an organization like the OAC grow and gain the support it needs to put on a Convention of this magnitude is the fire of our membership and those we serve. It’s about the people, and the Convention was a reflection of each of you.
It is my hope that if you did not attend this year’s Convention that you will join us in 2013 (announcement is coming soon!). Consider this my personal invitation to you! And, if you did attend, tell others why they NEED to attend next year. But the message that applies to any individual reading this Blog entry is how important your membership is to the OAC. Our membership was the springboard to building our amazing first-year Convention and our goal is to only make it better. Be part of it!
Be sure to join the OAC if you aren’t yet a member. Joining is easy and is just $20/year. And if you are already an OAC member, be sure to keep your membership current by renewing, or you can also consider making a tax-deductible donation to the OAC.
Amber Huett, OAC National Board, Convention Planning Committee, Chair