The first weekend in November saw not only the kick-off of National Diabetes Awareness Month but also the return of the Friends for Life Conference to Canada. This year, the US nonprofit organization Children with Diabetes partnered with the Canadian charity Connected in Motion to see the conference not only return, but expand. Over 400 members of the community, along with speakers, sponsors, and staff came together at the Marriott on the Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario for a weekend of community, connection, and learning.
Faculty members came from across the province (and even a few from the US!) to share their expertise with attendees. The conference kicked off with an Opening Reception, sponsored by Medtronic, on Friday evening. Attendees began their Saturday with a Welcome Keynote by Jeff Hitchcock and Jen Hanson. Jeff, the Founder and President of Children with Diabetes, shared the story of CWD, which began when his daughter, Marissa, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of two in 1989. He shared significant milestones from the early years through November 2018, when the 84th Friends for Life Conference was welcomed in Niagara Falls. Together, attendees reflected on the time spent with medical professionals versus the time spent managing diabetes independently and were reminded of the importance of peer-to-peer support and the type 1 diabetes community. Jen, the Executive Director of Connected in Motion, welcomed the Canadian crowd with the story of CIM. Borne from an idea sparked in 2006, Connected in Motion now provides educational and support programming for people with diabetes across Canada and in the United States. The audience learned how the experience of coasting in a peloton’s slipstream developed to become the framework that drives CIM programming today – that when we travel together as a group, we can move further, faster, and stronger than we ever could on our own.
Breakout sessions were well attended by parents and adults with diabetes alike. Sessions focused on mental health, technology and innovation, exercise, life stages, and nutrition. Faculty members Kerri Sparling, Lorraine Anderson, Michelle Sorensen, Gary Scheiner, Mike Riddell, Karen McAssey, Lucy McGroarty, Lori Short-Zamudio, and Bruce Perkins shared expertise on everything from improving the doctor-patient relationship, to body image issues, to diabetes innovations. Friends for Life Canada hosted 2 panel discussions. One focused on Diabetes at School and was moderated by Elizabeth Moreau of Diabetes at School, featuring parent advocates Trudy Adams, Shana Betz, and Khadija Cajee. The Sport & Athlete panel was moderated by Julie De Vos, RKin, CDE and featured Pro-Hockey Player and CIM Adventure Team Member Anissa Gamble, Ironman Athlete and MD, Anne Hospod, MMA Athlete Dessi Zaharieva, and Ironman Athlete Hank Devos.
While the parents were connecting and learning in their breakouts, the youth were having fun in their own sessions. Friends for Life Canada brought together 170 youth between the ages of 0 and 17. Age group programming was coordinated by amazing age group leaders Erin Randall (Childcare), Tina Sartori (Elementary), Sarah Melcher (Tween), and Alanna Landry (Teen). These team leads worked with over 30 staff from the type 1 diabetes community to facilitate curriculum-based programming in youth-specific breakout sessions on Saturday and Sunday. The Childcare (0-5) room was outfitted by Little Playscapes who not only donated equipment but also arranged for Chase from Paw Patrol to stop by and spend time with the littlest ones at Friends for Life Canada. The Elementary (6-8) age group loved exploring the hotel during the scavenger hunt and meeting with VIPs MMA athlete Dessi Zaharieva, Pro hockey player Anissa Gamble, Aerie model Evelyn Riddell, and Police Officer CD Jones. The Tween (9-12) room was filled with 70 kids with type 1 and their siblings – They had the chance to compete with one another in Diabetium, a diabetes-themed life-sized board game, and they connected with one another and discussed life with type 1 diabetes in the household. Teens learned from Mike Riddell, Michelle Sorensen and Kerri Sparling and capped things off with a trip to the bottom of the Falls on the Hornblower. Thank you to the amazing staff and HCP teams that came together to take care of the youth!
On Saturday evening, the community was welcomed to the Hennepin Ballroom to learn more about what other CIM partners and friends are doing in the world of type 1 diabetes at the Mix & Mingle. Thank you to the CIM Adventure Team, Beyond Type 1, Diabetes @ School, Sugardrop Sweetwear, DCamps, JDRF, Type 1 Think Tank, College Diabetes Network, Nightscout Foundation, LMC Healthcare, and Diabetes Hope Foundation for joining. Dexcom hosted families in a private theatre-style screening of Moana while Tandem Diabetes Care welcomed Adults from the type 1 diabetes community to kick back with a social.
After a full-day on Sunday, we had the wonderful Shawn Shepheard join us for a closing keynote. Shawn worked with the audience to provide tools that could help translate information and lessons learned throughout the weekend into real, actionable goals. And of course, he got the audience up, moving, and…singing. Who says the kids get to have all of the fun!
Friends for Life Canada could not have happened without the wonderful support of our sponsors which allowed Friends for Life Canada to be open to 400+ individuals. Thank you to our Founding Sponsors Dexcom, Medtronic, Novo Nordisk and Tandem Diabetes Care. These major sponsors were on board form the very beginning in making sure the weekend was a success. To our Supporting Sponsors Ascensia, DCamps, Diabetes Express, Lilly, LMC, Omnipod, and OneTouch, and our Table Sponsors, BD and TrialNet, thank you.
Thank you, also, to everyone who worked tirelessly behind the scenes both at the conference and in the months leading up. Thank you to Shari Michaelson and her team for heading up registration, to Scott Kyllo for leading all things IT, to Kristen O’Dell and Marilyn Fry for managing food and beverage (and carb counts and portion sizes!), and to Brian and Lynn Randall for taking care of our sponsors. Thank you to all of our room captains and weekend volunteers – It couldn’t have been done without you. And finally, thank you to the FFL Canada Team, Jeff Hitchcock, Laura Billetdeaux, Heather Gomez and Jen Hanson for tying everything together.
Friends for Life Canada 2019 will be hosted November 8-10, 2019 at the Sheraton on the Falls, Niagara Falls.
Watch for registration, expected to open in April 2019.