Guest post from Amanda Rodriguez
The things we love the most stay within us. They become part of who we are.
My name is Amanda Rodriguez, I am fifteen years old, and I currently attend Western High School in Davie, Florida. I’ve had a peanut allergy all my life, and it has shaped my life in so many ways. I’m writing to describe my experience with FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) and their dedication and commitment to really improving the lives of the 15 million Americans with food allergies.
Being a member of FARE, I receive emails and updates. On an ordinary day last year, I read an email about the 2016 Teen Summit. Not only was this a thrilling chance to meet other people who struggle with allergies as I do, but I’ve always wanted to visit Wisconsin for the cheese and the winter weather. As a Floridian, even the slightest possibility of seeing snow pushed me to take the leap.
FARE was offering one national scholarship to attend Teen Summit, and my family was not financially able to send me. With high hopes, I entered the scholarship contest. In the essay responses I explained my background and what allergy diagnosis has meant to me. My whole life, I had always thought of myself as an outcast because of my peanut allergy. I have vivid memories of every birthday cake I couldn’t eat and every buffet I had to sit out.
Most importantly, I expressed my deepest desire to go because of my family situation and history. My dad passed away in April 2016. Without my father’s income and support, my mother could not pay for my ticket. The scholarship was a source of light in my dark alleyway. It gleamed at me. It called my name.
Never in a million years would I have thought that I was capable of winning a national contest! But sure enough, a few weeks after submitting my entry, I received the golden email. It brought me to tears. With funding from the Natalie Giorgi Foundation, FARE would pay for everything: tickets to the conference, airfare, hotel costs, transportation, and meals for me and a guardian. Receiving the email sent a surge of pride and accomplishment through my heart. It was a feeling like no other I had felt before.
We came to Wisconsin a day before the summit to explore the city. I’ve come to love Milwaukee so much, its modern buildings and fall leaves. Everyone was so nice. The next day was the start of the summit. Nervous butterflies clouded my stomach, since it was my first time meeting everyone! But it turns out, I had nothing to fear. We started on “Trivia Night” with a group of randomly picked strangers to break the ice, and it sure did crack. I made friends that day that I’m sure I’ll never forget.
The next day was even more memorable. At all-day meetings we were able to collaborate with other students who struggle with allergies. We got to meet doctors, researchers, community leaders, and even a yoga instructor who taught us breathing exercises to help with our anxiety and stress about cross-contamination. We learned about dating with allergies, traveling with allergies, and more. We also did a mannequin challenge and even had a party with disco lights, hands in the air, and laughs all around.
That same day, I met a new best friend! Even though she lives in Ohio, we still keep in contact because our friendship is bonded by relatability and similarity. Gathering a group of teens with food allergies is one of FARE’s best ideas ever, because great friendships and memories are made. I also got to meet FARE’s youth ambassador, August Maturo.
There were so many people involved in making the summit happen, teams of people young and old. There were sponsors who shared what they’ve created for coping with food allergies, such as peanut-free and allergen-free treats that came in handy on the plane ride home. Not only were there adults with creative ideas, but also students! It was eye-opening to witness young innovators who came up with genius ideas.
FARE has helped me develop into a better and more involved person. I learned so much about myself at the summit. I learned how strong I really am and how capable I am of taking on the complications of my allergy. On the last day of the summit, it broke my heart to leave. I was going to miss the friends I had made and the activities that we participated in together. Before I left for home, I spoke on stage to encourage others and share the enthusiasm I’d found. I departed the 2016 FARE Teen Summit with a changed spirit and outlook. It was exciting to take my new knowledge and apply it in real life, all on my own. As much as I miss the Teen Summit experience, nothing can ever take the memories away.
Goodbyes are not the end. They are merely a building of tension, because in the end, the things we love come back to us.
Teen Summit will come back this November in Newport Beach, CA. Registration is now open. Reserve your spot today!