On March 15 I am going to get up at 4 a.m., drive 45 miles on the country's busiest freeway (the infamous 405), from Orange County to Los Angeles International Airport, work my way through security, and squeeze my 6'4” frame into the ever-shrinking space of a middle seat on an overcrowded airplane, where I will be held captive for five hours as it travels to Washington, D.C. And … I absolutely can't wait to do it!
Why, you ask? Because I am headed to my favorite event of the year -- the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Volunteer Leadership Conference (VLC), which will be held March 16-17.
Let me back up a bit. I have been involved with the CF Foundation for 31 years, ever since my daughter, Stacy, was diagnosed with CF at just 3 months old. I got involved because I felt that it was the most important thing I could do to give Stacy the best and longest life possible. Becoming involved with the Foundation gave me comfort that others were working passionately to help my daughter and all those living with this disease. But, it was still a very lonely journey because even though others could empathize, very few people could fully understand what Stacy, and our family, were going through on a daily basis. It was lonely, that is, until I attended the first VLC 14 years ago. There I was, among several hundred other dedicated volunteers -- volunteers who were just as motivated as I was to put an end to this disease. They didn't all have CF in their families, but they all had people with CF in their hearts.
That first VLC changed my life. I came home with renewed enthusiasm, energy, and hope, as well as a new group of friends who, over the years, have become like family. VLC is a place where we feel safe talking about our true feelings, expressing our fears for our loved ones' futures … and telling friends about their accomplishments and setbacks.
I have attended every VLC since that first one -- all 14 of them -- and every year I learn new things about the state of CF research and fundraising best practices. And, of course, every year I close down the hotel bar, hanging out with my great friends from around the country, until they literally kick us out.
This year I have the honor of being co-chair of VLC, along with my new pal, and hero, Bonnee Binker. The theme of this year's conference is: teamMATEs: Together Until It's Done. That's because we are all in this together, we have come so far together, and we will put an end to this disease together!
So, how can you be a part of VLC? We have some great sessions planned this year, and with just your computer or smartphone, you can livestream the whole thing. I'm thrilled that this year we will be streaming more content than ever, and sharing activities between sessions on social media, so you can get a flavor for the social aspect of the conference.
Sign up for the livestream here, taking place on March 16 and 17.
As always, the medical updates will be a highlight. We have all heard about the new medications to correct the basic defect in CF. But, we will learn more about what their development really means to people living with the disease today and about the Foundation's plans to find a cure for EVERYONE with CF during the Update on Research: Accelerating Progress session.
There will be several other medical sessions throughout the conference focused on specific issues that are relevant to various subgroups of the CF population, like the Lung Transplant Initiative and Advances Toward Treating CF Complications sessions.
We will also learn about new fundraising strategies and initiatives in several breakout sessions. We'll also spotlight the new young professionals program, Tomorrow's Leaders, and celebrate the 30th anniversary of Great Strides.
Attending the Volunteer Leadership Conference in person is wonderful. But, if you can't attend, the next best thing is to watch the livestream of the event. Whether you are there physically or virtually, I am confident your experience at VLC 2018 will be informative, motivational, and very meaningful like it always has been for me.