Under an Arch of Triumph:
The 28th Annual National Alopecia Areata Foundation Conference
Is it possible to get chills on a sunny Midwest summer’s morning, with temperatures already scaling 80 degrees before 9 a.m.? It is when you’re watching 450 men, women and children clad in matching orange t-shirts walk in smiling but determined regimentation around one of America’s most awe-inspiring landmarks, the Gateway Arch alongside the sparkling Mississippi River, to raise over $42,000 for alopecia areata research. The Tortoise & Hair™ fundraising walk served as the outdoor centerpiece of the 28th Annual National Alopecia Areata Foundation International Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, June 27 - June 30, 2013.
The Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch was the site of four event-filled days, attracting over 700 registered attendees from 39 states and 5 foreign nations. Of those attendees, 311 were VIP’s, i.e. those attending their first conference. Among those VIP’s was Denver’s KMGH news anchor Anne Trujillo, who was also our featured guest speaker for Saturday’s General Session. Her moving talk about being a public persona wrestling with alopecia areata – she was only diagnosed a year ago - brought a mixture of laughter and tears.
Also attending a NAAF Conference for the first time was Lisa Vanderpump, star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, along with her Pomeranian pup, Giggy, the most famous dog in the world who himself has alopecia areata. Lisa and Giggy were only able to spend 24 hours with us, but in that time they taped a Public Service Announcement for NAAF, filmed a segment of Great Day St. Louis in which Lisa discussed why alopecia areata is such an important cause, met with surprised and delighted Conference attendees for an impromptu photo session in the hotel foyer, and walked in Saturday morning’s Tortoise & Hair™. Most memorably, Lisa and Giggy met with both the Kids Camp and Teen Camp, in a grand scale replay of when she met with children from our Southern California support groups last year.
In addition to meeting Lisa and Giggy, kids ages 5-17 with alopecia areata and their supportive siblings had plenty to keep them entertained as the Conference Camp offered everything from a scavenger hunt to a talent show to a trip to a local museum. A special privilege for us is seeing these kids grow every year from children to teens to young adults.
The Conference’s practical workshops included a cosmetic demonstration with live models, and an awareness and advocacy workshop featuring event coordinators from around the country offering their expertise, along with a preview of this September’s Advocacy Day with our new Alopecia Areata Legislative Liaisons. An informative update on the Alopecia Areata Treatment Development Program was provided by Dr. Maria Hordinsky, Chair of the NAAF Scientific Advisory Council. Our esteemed researchers also participated in a one-of-a-kind Q&A session entitled Ask the Experts, enabling attendees to present their questions to a panel of the nation’s premiere alopecia areata investigators.
In addition to the Tortoise & Hair™, a silent auction raised more funds with a stunning variety of sought after merchandise, while a variety of exhibitor displays and marketplace vendors provided the latest alopecia areata-related products for shoppers to sample and purchase.
For the first time, we introduced a theme to our dessert dance party; Bringing the ‘70’s Back! In addition to the intoxicating mix of ice cream and disco, there was a costume contest featuring such Me Decade categories as Soul Train, Glam, and Punk. It was a veritable Studio 54 with everyone from John and Yoko to Charlie’s Angels boogying down.
Sunday’s closing session climaxed with prizes handed out for best dancers, best costumes, and most Tortoise & Hair™ pledges. Following a surprise tribute and slideshow for NAAF Chief Administrative Officer Jeanne Rappoport celebrating her 20 years with the organization, closing speaker Ali Lambert Voron, a highly successful voice-over actress, gave a highly original and stirring oration on what alopecia areata has done for her, and she offered this advice: “Feel it, accept it, beat it.”
With Ali’s words of uplift still in the air, the 28th Annual National Alopecia Areata Foundation International Conference slipped into St. Louis history, alongside Lewis & Clark, Dred Scott, and the development of jazz. There were hugs, tears, and goodbyes, followed by the inevitable See you in San Antonio!
Come June 2014, we wouldn’t be anywhere else.
Registration will be available January 2014.