A longtime dream for the OAC became a reality in 2012 when we hosted the organization’s Inaugural Your Weight Matters National Convention in Dallas, Texas. A meeting that was truly the first of its kind, the OAC’s Convention has grown to be the leading patient educational event that brings high-quality, evidence-based education intended for the everyday layperson to individuals in search of the right information on weight and health.

For the past four years, we have welcomed with open arms thousands of individuals who made the personal decision to seek this unique opportunity to experience in-person education and interact with the foremost experts in the field. We have had the honor to hear countless testimonies in which attendees described the meeting as “the best education,” “a chance to get one-on-one time with the most incredible experts” and “life changing.”

But for many people, attending a Convention like this was only a distant dream – one that would not likely be a reality. For some, attending a meeting across the country was not an option, what with the high cost of airline tickets, fuel and hotel accommodations. For other people, unpaid vacation time meant that they actually couldn’t afford to take the time off. Others had less issue booking travel, but the cost of the meeting itself was too much on top of all the other big-ticket financial commitments to attending a Convention.

And yet within each of these groups were hundreds of people who would greatly benefit from partaking in an in-person educational event, but were never able to do so. For a meeting of its kind to be so potentially life-changing, providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, the OAC board and staff knew it would need to create a way to get as many people there as possible.  This pathway would become the Convention Scholarship Fund. This special fund dedicated to providing money to attendees who were struggling financially was created in 2014.

The Scholarship Program, which in its first year awarded more than 10 Convention Scholarships, is funded exclusively by a marked Convention Scholarship Fund:

The OAC’s Convention Scholarship Fund is an ongoing designated fund within the Obesity Action Coalition, designed to bring high-quality education to underserved individuals actively seeking the right information on obesity, weight and health. The fund is exclusively supported by the generosity of public donations and makes it possible for individuals to attend the Your Weight Matters National Convention, who may not have the means otherwise to take part.

Now in its third year, the Convention Scholarship Program has made it possible for more than 25 people to be part of a compassionate community, and gain invaluable knowledge to take with them throughout their own personal health journeys. The significance of this Scholarship Program is best exemplified through the personal testimony from our scholarship recipients themselves, like Jennifer, a school teacher from San Antonio, Texas, who was awarded with a scholarship in the Program’s inaugural year:

“If I could say one thing about why my YWM scholarship had an impact of my life, it is that it gave me the knowledge, confidence and strength to open up and share with other people who are afraid and unable to figure out how to defeat the disease of Obesity.”

Or Maria, a college student and passionate advocate, who was awarded a scholarship in 2014:

“As a college student with very little income, this scholarship was like a dream come true. I was able to connect with old friends and make so many amazing new ones, and it felt great to be in the comfort of the judgment-free and caring environment that the Convention, and the OAC in general, created. I also learned something new every session from such wonderfully talented and intelligent speakers. It was a one-of-a-kind experience.”

You can make a difference in the lives of others, the way that receiving a scholarship made a difference in Jennifer and Maria’s lives. The simple reality is that these scholarships are only made possible by the generosity of public donations, and they will only continue to exist with outside support.

This year, we are grateful to be able to award 10 individuals, all of whom are first time Convention Scholarship recipients, with scholarships to fund or offset the cost of attending the 2016 Your Weight Matters National Convention, which will be held in just over four short months in Washington, DC.

But these 10 individuals were selected from a group of more than 100 applicants. That is why we have made it a goal to send five additional people to this year’s Convention, which could be as much as $6,500 with a full scholarship valued at $1,300 for travel, hotel and Convention Registration costs.

This goal may be lofty, but with the generous outpouring of support we have already seen from people like you, we know that this goal can and will be achieved. Thanks to our partnership with George Washington University, we have over 100 applications in ranked order, so we are prepared to award the next five individuals if we meet our goal. And while our goal is 15 scholarships this year, we are building our program with the dream of someday fulfilling all of the requests.

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The people who received scholarships this year perfectly exemplify the effect that obesity can have on one’s life, and the positive impact receiving a scholarship to attend the Convention can have on someone’s journey. Their personal stories shed the best light on a question you may ask: Why should I donate to the Scholarship fund? HOW does my gift help? WHO are my dollars helping?

George Washington University anonymously shared with us responses from some of this year’s scholarship recipients with their permission, to illustrate the need for this Scholarship Program and the tremendous impact it has on the awardees. Here’s what they said:

Your donation helps an individual who describes that obesity has personally affected them throughout their entire life: “A number of my life decisions have been directly impacted by my obesity and my ongoing quest to conquer it. I cannot claim that my story is per say worse than the struggle of another, to my mind that would be both inconsiderate and arrogant. What I can say, with great confidence, is that given the extremes of the obesity continuum I have visited over the years, I am agonizingly well-versed in how obesity can personally affect an individual.”

Your donation helps an individual who self-describes their weight management journey as a “second chance at life” and who wants “to impact as many people as they can on the rest of their journey” because “everyone deserves to live a life full of joy and happiness, not shame and self-loathing:” “I believe that constant education helps me be the strongest advocate not only for myself, but for every person that I come in contact with that struggles with obesity. […] I believe that I have a voice that needs to be heard and this Convention is the chance for me to begin using it.”

Your donation helps an individual who has experienced success on their journey, but who is well aware that the journey is ongoing and important: “I need the help, guidance and motivation to gain control and focus on myself again. I need to mingle with others with the same interest and goals. […] I want to learn how to maintain my weight so I can enjoy my 9-year-old grandson and daughter for many years to come.”

Your donation helps an individual who has taken their own personal fears of their weight issues and turned them into inspiration: “Obesity has prompted me to take action; I am determined to change my life style patterns that have taken some of my joy of life and the fear that I will cause myself an early death.“

This is who you are helping when you make a donation to the Scholarship Fund. You are giving them the GIFT of EDUCATION. These individuals’ stories are only but a few examples of the stories we received, but there are more than 100 people this year alone who demonstrated a great NEED for assistance.