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Butterflies Cause Hurricanes at Alternatives Conference, No Injuries Reported
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In September 2010, the PATH Consumer Provider Network attended the SAMHSA Alternatives Conference. In this story, Recovery Specialist Steven Samra discusses the conference and the impact it had on members of the PATH Consumer Provider Network.

The PATH Consumer Provider Network (PCPN) was created approximately two years ago to serve as an advisory group to the national PATH program. PCPN members contribute to and participate in a number of exciting activities, including attending PATH stakeholder meetings and developing expanded recommendations for SAMHSA’s guidelines for consumer and family participation. But one may be hard-pressed to top the group’s recent experience at the Tenth Annual SAMHSA Alternatives Conference, held in Anaheim, California. SAMHSA Federal Project Officer, and PCPN advocate, Mr. Robert “Bobby” Grace, made it possible for the group to meet face to face, participate fully in activities, and enjoy a conference created for consumers by consumers. Dr. Mattie Cheek, PATH program Director and Paolo del Vecchio, Associate Director for Consumer Affairs at SAMHSA, also provided support and resources to enable the PCPN’s participation in the 2010 Alternatives Conference.

Over 1,200 individuals from around the country and as far away as Australia, Puerto Rico, and Iceland attended the conference. Almost all of the six current PCPN members were able to attend the event and the group enjoyed a full complement of activities made available by conference planners.

The scope and pace of the conference were energetic, to say the least. PCPN members selected from a generous buffet of over 100 interactive workshops, caucuses, special events, presentations, and institutes. Activities began at 8am and ran the gamut of consumer interest, keeping everyone engaged and learning new tips, techniques, and resources well into each evening. Each morning, afternoon, and evening had so much to offer that half the battle was determining one’s own presentation priorities.

Each morning began with a full breakfast, punctuated with a motivating and inspiring keynote speaker. Attendees planned their days as they mingled, shared, and engaged with a diverse, and often joyously energetic, group of like-minded friends and colleagues. The afternoons brought engaging workshops, stress-relieving activities such as yoga and comedic relief. For those who wanted it, the evening brought some quiet time, a massage or perhaps an expressionistic moment of drawing, writing, or painting. Evenings also provided entertaining and imaginative caucus sessions from a variety of groups and agencies.

So much valuable information was presented over the four-day event that many attendees were still networking and sorting through information long after returning home. PCPN member Tyrone Pittman, discussing a favorite session, stated that, “’Our Stories’ was an inspiring workshop that made me proud in sharing my story just the way it is and I hope that it helps others.” Another PCPN member, Rene’ Buchanan, stated that, “This past week, I saw firsthand not only how important what we do is, but how much greater our impact could be.” Michael Kelly, a founding member of the PCPN hailing from North Carolina, made sure to use his time on the west coast to his greatest advantage. Just five minutes from Disneyland and a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean Michael shared that “The trip wasn’t all work and no play because we managed to squeeze in a little fun in the evenings…. after workshops, we went to Huntington Beach and walked in the sand and ocean.” The PCPN took home with them a bevy of information, skills, and resources from the presentations and the people who participated in the Alternatives Conference. Maggie Walker, Chair of the PCPN mused after the event, “I have now challenged myself to start working with my peers to incorporate what I learned.”

It is s an understatement to say the event was a success. It is difficult to tell just how much of what was learned, shared, and experienced at Alternatives 2010 will impact communities around the country, but the potential is enormous. The power to change lives for the better is reminiscent of the analogy of a butterfly’s wings flapping in New Guinea and causing a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Grace eloquently summed up the overall experience for the PCPN members: “By bringing the group together at an event focusing upon the successes, value, and experience consumer-providers bring to the table, the level of commitment for the PCPN effort was greatly increased, as was the camaraderie, bonding, and collaborative energies of the group as a whole.”

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