Welcome to the Board: Rob Portinga

Rob PortingaSo far in our latest blog series, we’ve briefly introduced you to our four new members of the OAC National Board of Directors and shared with you some of their stories and passions by connecting with them personally.

Next, we’d like to give you the chance to get to know yet another new Board Member – Rob Portinga from Washington! By day, Rob works for Obesity Prevention, Policy and Management – a company that provides various services to other companies in the areas of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. As the Director for their Engagement Center, he oversees a great team that serves as their front line for interacting with patients as they pursue their own obesity treatments.

By weekend, Rob’s passion for the last couple of years since relocating to Washington State from Minnesota has been just being outdoors – hiking, camping, snowshoeing and more. That’s on top of his nearly lifelong passion for cooking. When talking about his hobbies, Rob writes:

“These are the things that keep me sane enough to deal with the stresses the work week brings.”

Please join us in giving Rob a warm WELCOME to the OAC National Board of Directors!

An Interview with Rob Portinga

Rob Portinga

Q: How and when did you initially hear about the OAC? What was your impression, and did you immediately get involved with the organization?

A: I met Joe Nadglowski in 2011 at a bariatric surgery event in Las Vegas. I was pretty busy with some other groups and events, having been fairly active in the bariatric surgery community locally in Minnesota as well as other parts of the country. It seems like at each event, I was learning more and more about the OAC. By the middle of 2012, I finally figured out that while the social and motivational aspects of the groups I had been involved with were great, the advocacy aspects of the OAC showed me that it was an organization I needed to be more involved with.

Unfortunately, I didn’t come to this realization in time to make the OAC’s first Your Weight Matters National Convention, but I did make it to YWM2013 in Phoenix. I made it a point to get there in time to take part in the national advocacy training class. The rest of the weekend is a blur of great memories where I met people, listened to the speakers and found a place of belonging.

Soon after returning home, I was invited to join the OAC for a day on Capitol Hill to talk to our legislators about the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA). Then, I ran into Joe again the following January when I gave a presentation on the barriers to advocacy for a meeting of the Minnesota chapter of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) – a presentation where I borrowed one of Joe’s favorite quotes on Advocacy:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

That year, I applied to be on OAC Committees and was invited to join both the Convention Planning Committee and Bias Committee – and I have started my third year with both.

Q: What is your connection to the cause of obesity, and why do you choose to dedicate yourself to that cause?

A: I am a bariatric patient myself, having had Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass in April of 2009. I had been heavy most of my life, but the ten or so years before surgery just seemed to bring more and more pounds and issues every year.

One of my passions I should have mentioned has always been comic books. And my favorite super-hero, hands down, has been Spider-Man. Much of the mythos behind this character revolves around the ideas of power and responsibility. As I was able to get a better handle on the treatment of my own obesity, it helped me realize that there was something I could do with what I’ve learned – that my voice, my story, has a certain degree of power behind it. And as such, I have a responsibility to do something good with it. The OAC provided me with an avenue to do so.

Q: Why do you believe an organization like the OAC is essential to individuals who are affected by obesity, and what do you think others can gain from it? 

A: First of all, when we talk about “individuals who are affected by obesity,” we should be clear that like many other diseases, the true impact reaches far beyond just the individuals with the disease itself. You need only look at our main pillars: education, advocacy and support.

Education goes beyond simply providing information about the disease, its impact and treatment options. There’s the even larger aspect of educating the public in general about the issues of weight bias and stigma. This is something that impacts not just those affected by obesity, but those who still feel it is okay to judge a person’s worth based on a number on a scale.

Advocacy is related to education in that we often need to educate others – such as our legislators – in order to show them why something like access to care is such an important issue to get behind. But it’s also important on the lower levels for bringing attention to bias and stigma in the workplace, media and other areas.

Last but not least is support, because the support that our community of members offers is awe-inspiring. Simply look at any of the photos coming out of events such as the OAC’s Your Weight Matters National Convention and you can see it.

Q: What motivated you to join the OAC National Board of Directors?

A: I suppose it comes back to the power and responsibility that I mentioned before. The support that others in this organization have shown me over the last few years has only served to show me what is possible, and it just felt like there was more I could offer – and so I had this responsibility to do so.

Q: What do you hope to see in the future of the OAC? In what ways do you think the organization can work to achieve those goals? 

A: The work we do on a national level is great, and it was wonderful to have been able to spend a day on Capitol Hill, but national advocacy is not for everyone. I really believe the OAC is a reflection of its membership, and in order to keep growing (and not just in numbers) our membership, we need to be more involved with each other on a more local level – be it state or regional.

We need to foster those community connections and help our members find things they can do to affect changes in those communities. That, by its nature, will carry over to the next level and to the next – on up to helping the OAC at that national level. Some of the things I found out about while beginning to serve on the Board are already in the works – things that you’ll see happening in this coming year – are already steps in that direction. I look forward to helping the OAC do even more in these areas.

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