“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” — Matthew 11:28-30
I think I’m emotionally ready to write this post now. Welcome to “Behind the Scenes.”
Transforming Lives: Diabetes Today and Tomorrow started out as an idea from a best practice from another JDRF Chapter. That one large Outreach event that brings in as many people as possible because it only happens once a year. It’s social, it’s educational. When I heard it, I knew I wanted one for our Chapter. Undertaking an event we had never done before was immediately deemed, “next year or the year after.”
Putting off a signature event seemed like a comfortable idea because we had never done one. But it became apparent that we couldn’t know what it was like to host this event without hosting this event. Also, well…people were not attending the other smaller events held in different areas throughout the year. Attendance was dwindling…rapidly. That pushed our Outreach Committee to say it was time.
I found some great help in veteran conference Chapters, and they shared resources, gave great advice and followed up. I started 13 months before the event actually planning it. I had the go ahead from our volunteer Outreach Chair, our Outreach Committee, and I asked a few to be on the planning committee. I talked to National staff, recruited speakers.
The initial excitement was…exciting! I would get chills as our speakers were confirmed and as venue proposals came back lower and lower. There was pushback because we weren’t charging people to attend…so no direct revenue. This would be 100% giving back to the community. Other events we teach people impacted by type 1 diabetes (T1D) how to fundraise effectively. This one we would be bringing experts from outside our state into our city to teach people how to manage diabetes to the best of their ability while finding the motivation and support to do so. Not to mention inspire hope in the research we together fund.
I knew this was a good idea. I had people who believed in it (my committee and close volunteers). I knew it would be hard, but I could see it!
As 2012 approached, I was burnt out. The planning, the clawing and scratching for anything to move forward – it was weighing on me. I was so over this event. When I was asked, “How is conference?” I would get this look on my face, as if they should know that I was building the locomotive that was about to run me over. I thought this event was so logitically heavy, there’s just no way.
Thirty days out we had a committee meeting in which one of my dearest friends said, “Look how much you’ve done!” This would be the healthy way of looking at things. I was reassured many times that it would be great. I love volunteers. You have no idea, and looking back, I could not have done anything without the support of my committee, staff and friends. At the time, my thinking was, I have 30 days to get a LOT done, or this conference is going to suck. It’s going to be awful, and all of you will deny any affiliation with it. Listen when I say, this is going to be AWFUL. A-W-F-U-L. So much, there’s just so much, omigod, so much.”
My colleagues were buried under mountains of work with all our concurrent programs and responsibilities. My committee – buried. Everytime I had a call or meeting with a committee member we would talk about how tired we were. I remember one meeting in which my friend and I just stared at each other blankly. So much was happening at the same time for everyone. It was insanity.
I had to give it to God. It wasn’t just task lists (I had about four pages a day), but the figuring out what my task lists SHOULD be that was stressful. So, I prayed. I started praying at my desk. When my brain would turn off *click* I would pray and then keep going. Suddenly, I could see my blessings and received new ones.
My number one volunteer spent countless hours with me. Granted, he claims to be in love with me. Wants to spend forever with me, but NO, I did not take advantage of his adoration. Okay, I totally did. To protect his identity, uh, let’s call him..um..Smee…yeah.
Smee started coming in every day after work to spend at least two hours doing paper assembly for 500 people. I even gave him the task to checking the pen drawer. We have hundreds (if not thousands) of pens in the office that lack caps or ink – we just didn’t know which ones. Now, we do. Thank you, Smee. Smee also worked in the office with me on weekends. He was there for the reception the night before and for the event. He made airport runs, carried boxes, ran errands and told me he was proud of me. He made sure I ate food and kept hydrated. God must cherish my sanity, because Smee is a blessing!
I had emotional support from my Twitter friends! I even have one close to my heart that remembered the days until the “big day” and cheered me on!
A couple of weeks before the event, I had a list of volunteers, but just could not focus on this incredibly crucial aspect of an event. I needed an expert, and my colleagues were even MORE buried! Deadlines were tight around here. So, one volunteer said that she had years of event planning experience and would be available to do more. I met her at Starbucks, she took copies of everything and took it on. I might have been the grande Starbucks, but right then and there I was euphoric. I praised God. This was a conference MIRACLE!
Tailoring a conference for one person 500 times over made me crazy. Every single registration took time and focus, like a puzzle. Finally, after what felt like years but was really 13 months, every schedule was customized, every printed material ready, lists assembled, staff trained and ready to go, and then Friday the 13th came and we welcomed our speakers and began setting up. Lunch with a group of people I know by their books, stellar reputations and profile pics was surreal. It’s quite a shame my brain was mush. I would have asked so many better questions! A committee member stopped me in the hallway and asked if I was okay, not in the way I was asked 5 bazillion times, but in a really concerned way. “Yeah, just tired.” I went to the bathroom and scared myself. I looked awful!! Bad enough to scare small children and to trick-or-treat for sure.
The next day, in a suit that does not fit AT ALL (no time for tailors), I prayed God bless this event. It would take the hand of God working through the hands of all our volunteers and staff to pull this off. There were so many intricate moving parts happening at the same time.
I knew each attendee by name. I knew if they had emailed me, I knew if they had dietary restrictions, I knew their connection, their schedule, where they drove in from. So, when less than half of the people that registered actually came to the event, yes, I was disappointed. After the event, I was pulling all the unused schedules for recycling, and I felt their absence. Each and every one. But that day, for those that attended, I felt such a sense of community. I felt part of something bigger than myself. A coming together to laugh and inspire and LEARN. I love to learn. I got hugs from familiar faces and got to meet new people. All the stress gained and sanity lost dissipated in one thank you. And I got more than one thank you. All of us that believed in it saw the gratitude conveyed for one or some or all of the small moving pieces.
I felt His presence, saw His hand in it. We made a good start. My cup runneth over.