Guest post by Carlo Steinman
When I was in eighth grade, I went to Washington D.C. with my mother to attend the first Teen Summit. I didn’t know what to expect that first weekend, but what I found was more than I could have ever imagined. Teen Summit was more than just excellent programs and activities, though there were plenty of those. No, it was really a chance to be myself with people who inherently understood me. The friendships formed quickly and deeply, and I’m proud to say that the people I met at that first Teen Summit remain some of my very best friends.
As I came to discover, Teen Summit was a place where I didn’t have to worry about what people would think when I brought out my own food at a restaurant, where calling ahead was a way of life, and where carrying epinephrine didn’t stand out. Though, in hindsight, I realize that the fanny pack-type pouch I used to carry my medicine was not my best look.
But it was at Teen Summit, a few years later, where I learned from an older kid, a cool surfer dude from California, that there was nothing weird about carrying your epinephrine in a pocket. If fact, he even taught us some funny lines for shutting down jokes about us having something in our pants. He’d been us, and he got it, and he was there to help. I’ll never forget that.
That’s what sticks with me most about the Teen Summits I’ve been to: the community. Since we have so many experiences in common, it feels like we’ve all been friends for years. We’d all huddle in the lobby or in someone’s room after the day’s sessions were over, ignoring repeated pleas from our parents to go to sleep, because we were just so excited to be around other people who were going through the same things we were.
Those conversations didn’t have to have anything to do with food allergies, either. That’s what’s so great. We could be normal teens, and talk about school and friends and what celebrities we had crushes on. But, we could also talk about what it felt like to be singled out because you couldn’t have ice cream, or how we dealt with going to a restaurant for a friend’s birthday party. The conversations are free flowing and wide-ranging, and the friendships are fast.
It wasn’t all sitting and talking, though. We definitely got into some shenanigans over the years. Like the time we all decided it would be fun to run down the back stairs from the rotating restaurant at the top of the hotel, or when we convinced some parents to chaperone us on a late-night laser tag adventure. In those moments, whoever you are outside of Teen Summit doesn’t matter, and what matters is that we’re all a family when we’re there.
It is memories like these that make me so grateful to be able to keep going to Teen Summit, even as I aged out of my teenage years and went off to college. The beauty of Teen Summit is that it is a cross-age community, where older kids—like me—are able to share tips and tricks for younger kids, because we’ve been there. Having mentors is always important, and it’s especially important for kids with food allergies, who might not know a lot of other people with allergies.
As I’ve grown, I’ve presented on several topics, from bullying, traveling, high school, eating in college, dating, and jobs and careers, and also given lots of informal advice as a friend who has been there before. To be able to give back in this way has been a wonderful experience, and it keeps me coming back to Teen Summit year after year. It’s so moving just to see the teens interacting with each other and learning that they are not alone. To have watched Teen Summit grow from 30 of us in a small room to hundreds in a ballroom is incredibly exciting. I truly love it.
Teen Summit will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s where I made some of my closest friends, the friends that are the first people I call if I ever have a reaction, the ones I texted to discuss what we were going to major in, where we wanted to live after college, how our first jobs were going. It’s where I learned strategies for managing my allergies in any situation I could think of, from going to high school to traveling to China, and learned information about everything from legislation and legal rights to clinical trials and new medical discoveries.
I hope that I’m able to attend many more FARE Teen Summits going forward, even if I am significantly stretching the definition of “teen” at this point. It’s such a wonderful community, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.
Registration is now open for the 12th Annual Teen Summit this fall in beautiful Newport Beach, CA. Visit foodallergy.org/teensummit for more information.