It is with great pleasure that I recap my experience and attendance of my second Unity Conference that was held April 14-17 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Since my first experience of attending in 2017 in Dallas, TX as a vendor and round table presenter on Trauma and Injury Prevention, my enlightenment of the work of Community Health Workers has been broaden. I have been working in the role of a CHW for close to 10 years with a Health Care System and been blessed to work in three different positions serving different populations and also working as a Community Health Worker Instructor. Through these roles my knowledge has been increased around the variations of needs that communities face as well as barriers and how CHWs can assist in filling in the gap. The spectrum in which CHWs can reach that the clinic based healthcare professional cannot is critical. It works even better when paired as a multidisciplinary team member who adds value and credibility to the field of work through their knowledge, skills and connection to the community. I was SO very excited to receive the scholarship to attend the fabulous conference! I knew there were many applying, but had no clue that 187 people applied until we received the news of our acceptance and only 17 were selected. WOW...speechless is an understatement. I knew this was going to be magical.
Day 1- Sunday, April 14, 2019 Enjoyed the sights of Las Vegas and the strip. It was great to connect with individuals who were coming in for the conference and seeing all of the smiles ready and eager for learning and connecting. I enjoyed dinner with my colleague who was attending the conference separately in a different department.
Day 2-Monday April 15, 2019 Official first day of the conference!! I met with some of my new friends from Baltimore and Atlanta downstairs for breakfast. The Unity buzz was flying high from strangers randomly sitting with one another and sharing directions of how to get to the conference. Once I received my name tag I headed into the massive room, I thought it was neat to have the color coded dots for our tables, mine was orange and I had the pleasure of sitting with some intriguing individuals who shared with me their work in their communities. I realized they as well were scholarship recipients and some NACHW Ambassadors. The opening was exciting and the history was even more informative, I enjoyed that aspect from Susan she has truly walked a great fight in leading this initiative of the Unity Conference. Sessions I attended; #5- Learning how different organizations gain partnerships was very informative. Sometimes we get used to what we know and have worked and get stagnant in our approaches with innovation. This session sparked ideas and conversations in how to cross over to different sectors and start the conversation of working together. #10-This was a great interactive session that really got everyone talking and writing and brainstorming! I think this was beneficial to allow our ideas and voices to be heard in the shaping of NACHW and all that is being done to advocate for CHWs, we then had to present in front of everyone. Great conversations and connections, I met a lot of contacts in this session that I have been in contact with after the conference. #Who Cares for those who care? (colleagues)- Often because we work together we don’t have an opportunity to hear our colleagues teach, but this was a great class and the way Vanessa and Candace engaged the audience in the discussion was great! Over 60 attended and some standing. It was a reminder that self care is vital and we have to take time to practice what we preach. People want to know how to destress and take time for themselves, the attendance was evident. The hands on tips and application shared of how to apply during meditation was well needed especially as this session was at the end of the day. NACHW Reception- It was great to connect with everyone here and have some light refreshments right after the conference! I enjoyed meeting the different NACHW Ambassadors and meeting many in leadership. This gave an opportunity for people to be a little less formal and engage and network.
Day 3- Tuesday April 16 Plenary session was very informative learning about the health systems side of the work that we as CHWs do. Afterwards attending the poster sessions was very intriguing speaking with so many different types of presenters and their topics. The poster sessions are always a favorite because I can go at my own pace and speak with a variety of different people. Some of the posters that stood out to me were; Poster 3, 5,13, 31. I had a chance to speak with them and learn more about how they are incorporating the work of CHWs in their communities and the effects that it has had. I attended early afternoon session 3 and late afternoon session 3 –CHWs in the school environment this was one of my top 5 favorite sessions because I work with youth and I know how much a different having another stakeholder involved can make. Wanda sharing her experiences and also receiving the CHW Award very well deserves from the stories she shared. I look forward to engaging with her more to see how I can be an advocate for CHWs in the school in my area of DFW, Texas. Session 1: Burnout and recovery was
informative on stats as to how it can affect wellness of the individual and tools to use.
The CHW Crew Mix & Mingle Event Evening 5:30pm-8:30pm I hosted a CHW Mix and Mingle networking event at a local restaurant through a connection I made with a Nevada CHW Instructor Alisa with my organization The CHW Crew. We had 30 CHWs from a
variety of states attend and share their stories and journey of being a CHW. It was a great event and one of the highlights of this experience for me connecting with individuals with a passion for community and service as I do!
Day 4- Wednesday April 17 Hearing the work of the C3 Project was very informative and eye opening, the panel was great, the young woman who gave the definition of a CHW and how her role on her Indian reservation was spectacular. The roundtable sessions were fabulous; I wish I had more time in some of them. One of my favorites was #32 Morehouse High School CHW Program and how they are utilizing youth engagement. #31 Career Advancements for CHWs was a great discussion on CHWs advancing and how to build partnerships across the lines to support CHWs which will affect funding. Afterwards I enjoyed lunch and the awards session. There were some fun awards given and the Whoa app was just awesome, it allowed us to connect online and instantly and engage more. I think it would have been different without the app, it allowed us to continue conversations and posting pictures and connecting in real time. With over 800 CHWs and allies attending it was just a beautiful site to see, different ethnicities, careers, genders, organizations all come together in one place for one cause and that’s making a difference in our communities to make them healthier.
To cap it all off with a cherry was the wobble dance, and we laughed and wobbled and had a great time. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending!
I posted quite frequently to my social media accounts during the conference and I had quite a few people ask me, are you sure you are at a conference? You look like you are having tons of fun! My response, yes! When you pair your passion for CHWs and healthy communities with another 799 others there is going to be a good time and dancing is healthy and fun!