A Conference for Online Advocates of Chronic Illnesses

I feel incredibly lucky to have been invited to a conference in Chicago for online advocates of chronic illnesses: HealtheVoices. Approximately three days prior to the deadline to apply, I received a message in LinkedIn. At first, I had wondered if it was an automatically-generated message that went out as a huge message blast for advertising purposes. However, after reading it a second time, it certainly sounded a bit personalized. A Janssen employee, Kristina Chang, had contacted me directly to apply, as this was their third year in a row of the HealtheVoices conference and they hoped to increase the number of advocates representing mental health. She offered to answer any questions I had by phone.

I decided to take Kristina up on her offer and called her directly. I was able to learn a great deal more about the conference through this conversation. I was a bit skeptical, at first, learning that Janssen was a pharmaceutical company. However, she explained that this is Janssen’s way of giving back to the community they serve and that Janssen would not be marketing to the advocates. I decided to apply. I found out a few weeks later that I had been accepted. All expenses paid by Janssen. I was thrilled and really didn’t know what to expect.

The conference was primarily structured by advocates themselves, with great support (not only financially) from Janssen and Tonic Life Communications. The conference was very well organized. The diverse needs of the advocates attending, many of whom were living with the illness for which they were advocating, were well accommodated.

There were 106 advocates from 30 different states and at least four different countries. The amount of energy at the conference was palpable! I was so privileged to be at a conference with such caring, passionate, and inspiring advocates! I quickly realized that these advocates were not only advocating for an illness, but for so much more; racial equity, poverty, gender equity, and social justice, to name just a few.

There were sessions that included a panel of advocates who shared advocacy strategies and answered questions. There were sessions on tips for blogging, working with the media and engaging legislators. Youtube and Facebook representatives presented on how to maximize their tools as a way to further our advocacy. Two well-known Youtube advocates that were highlighted in the presentation (therapist and mental health advocate, Kati Morton and psoriasis advocate, Huy Ngo)  just happened to be attending the conference. At that moment, I felt as though I was surrounded by celebrities. It confirmed my thoughts; that I was privileged to be a part of a group of passionate people who advocate at a very high level.

Upon returning, I have now created a Facebook page.  I have to admit, one advocate was so amused that I had no Facebook page, that she snapped a shot of me and Tweeted it out. If that’s not incentive to create a Facebook page, I’m not sure what is! I have also registered with a couple of organizations that I had learned about to help expand my advocacy work.

I want to thank all of the the amazing advocates who were a part of the conference. Participating in a conference with them was incredibly inspiring and empowering! I want to thank Janssen for creating such an amazing conference that allows the online advocates to meet in person, learn together, and share ideas. I also want to thank TonicLC for being caring supporters and organizers who helped create such a smooth-running conference. Finally, I want to thank those organizations who sponsored the event and made it all possible! I hope to be invited back next year!

As always, I welcome and encourage comments to this post and any other!

Note: Janssen Global Services paid for my travel expenses for the conference. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

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