Every year, FARE hosts conferences for teens and families living with food allergies. This fall, tweens, teens and young adults ages 11-22, as well as their parents, will come together in Newport Beach, CA for the 12th Annual FARE Teen Summit. FARE asked Mariah McConnell to share her experiences at another FARE event, the 2017 FARE National Food Allergy Conference, in this guest blog post:
Guest blog post, Mariah McConnell
This past April I was able to attend my first ever FARE National Food Allergy Conference. I was inspired to attend because of mostly negative experiences at school concerning food allergies. I have multiple food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish and honey. Attending school has been an uphill climb because my school is not educated on food allergies and how serious they are, so when the opportunity arose to attend this conference I knew I had to find a way to get there. Prior to going to the conference, I was hoping to gain knowledge about how to effectively educate others about how food allergies affect everyday lives and how to help people that have food allergies. I learned all of that and much, much more.
When I arrived at the conference, I immediately had a sense of belonging and I was comfortable even though I didn’t know anyone. If I had to pick a favorite session it would be Food Allergies and Bullying: Tips and Tricks to Self-Advocacy because it gave me the most information on how to speak up to bullies which I have encountered a lot. The highlight of the weekend for me was just being able to relax and not have that feeling of constant worry that you are going to come across your allergen foods. My biggest takeaway from the conference was making connections with other teens and knowing that I’m not alone even though I may feel as though I am.
After returning home I did many things with what I learned at the conference. One example of what I did was making some fun Teal Takeover signs and signs containing food allergy awareness facts. I hung them at our local Little League field for Food Allergy Awareness Week to help educate kids of all ages, and even the adults, on the seriousness of food allergies. Also, through the help of my mom, during Food Allergy Awareness Week we got a local business to donate a marquee for the week to spread awareness in our village through bold bright lights and lots of Teal! For me, the most important way I have applied what I have learned is bringing my knowledge back to my school. With the help of my family, our school district is now in the process of creating a food allergy policy and building protocol for our high school. These are just a few ways I have applied what I have learned at FARE’s National Conference.
If you are considering going to a FARE National Food Allergy Conference or a FARE Teen Summit, go. It is an experience like no other. You get the chance to really learn and understand all the aspects of food allergies in the specific sessions, you meet others whose food allergy journeys parallel your own, and in making the connections you learn strategies that they have learned and applied to their own similar experiences. While at the conference you get to experience just being “normal” for the first time in a long while. You don’t have constant worry about the food around you, the atmosphere, and others you are socializing with. It is a feeling of freedom from all the things you have to be observant of nearly 100% of the time while living with food allergies day to day. At a FARE conference, you get to relax, mingle, play games, dance, laugh, smile, and it’s as if there are no cares in the world while you are there. Feeling so connected to so many people just like you and your family does make it difficult to sit for the final session. You don’t want it to be over, you hope that something more will come up to make the minutes last longer so that the “see ya later, nice to meet ya” doesn’t come, but it does. After reflecting on all I participated in, I realized that my goodbyes were just for now and that my new friends and I can stay connected through social media.
On Sunday afternoon, after the conference was over, I sat figuring out what I was going to do first to change my world of food allergies for the better, keeping in mind the many others back at my school that I hoped to help by attending the FARE conference. I gained so much amazing factual information that has empowered me and my family. I wish the united, inspired, and connected feeling I felt in Texas was as easy to emulate in my school, but with FARE to support me, my family, and the many friends I met at the conference, I know that positive changes for me are ahead, helping me with my continued food allergy path. It is comforting for me to know that I have resources and friends to rely on now, thanks to this past spring’s FARE National Food Allergy Conference. I no longer feel like I am doing this alone. I look forward in the future to attending another FARE conference and continuing to learn all I can to help myself, my community, and my state on food allergy updates, new research, and education. Thank you, FARE, for connecting, uniting and inspiring me and many others.
The 12 Annual FARE Teen Summit is coming up this November 10-12 in Newport Beach, CA. Applications for scholarships and submissions for the 2017 Teen Summit Innovation Tank are due July 31. Learn more at foodallergy.org/teensummit.