By Benjamin Katz
I won’t lie, it is difficult to give justice to the true Mid-Year experience in just one blog. Over the course of four days of intensive, collaborative training sessions from federal partners, CADCA staff, master trainers, and coalition leaders, it is clear to see why CADCA’s 22nd Annual Mid-Year Training Institute was THE can’t miss event of the summer in the field of substance use and misuse prevention. There is nothing like it that I have experienced, and I cannot wait to attend again in Chicago next year. Whether you missed out on attending this year or want to relive the week of training from a CADCA Marketing Associate’s perspective, I hope you enjoy my Mid-Year reflections.
Sunday: Boots hit the ground running at the Gaylord Texan, and CADCA’s Communications and Meetings team swiftly stepped in as the conductor to a symphony of movement, with tables rolling, vendor displays rising, and the Mid-Year branding flying everywhere the eye could see. I was in awe of all the moving pieces as I walked the grounds, seeing how much space our people would soon fill. I heard the number of attendees we’d have ahead of time, but it doesn’t initially click just how large a crowd of 2,400 people is until you see it in action. Shortly after arriving on-site, I immediately got to work coordinating with the event photographer, running final checks on the CADCA app and training session grid, and planning out social media ideas for the week. In the flurry of activities, time slipped away entirely and suddenly people started arriving. Like the breaking of a dam, the flow slowly built up and up until the entire reception hall was overflowing with attendees checking in, blinging their badges, and grabbing their tote bags and lanyards. Sunday was over as soon as it started and all I could think at the end of the day was, “Is this what Mid-Year is like every year?” So much excitement, action, talking, laughing, and most importantly, walking! I got back to my room that night with sore feet and a fire behind my eyes ready for day one.
Monday: A continuation of Sunday but with more people. Whether it was at the Opening Plenary, the international and youth openings, the ONDCP Town Hall, any of the training sessions, or the Youth Meetup and Chill, our attendees were taking in the full experience of being surrounded by likeminded peers. Everyone had a purpose and a reason to be at Mid-Year and I was just happy to be included in the hustle and bustle. As a first timer, I had some difficulty navigating the event space at first, but the CADCA app quickly became my go-to resource for directions, session info, and notifications. My best friend throughout Mid-Year was definitely all of the CADCA staff and attendees, but my second-best friend was the CADCA app (#NotAnAd).
Tuesday: This is the day where I started to drink coffee. Coincidentally, this is also the day where everything became less overwhelming. People were able to settle down from the initial excitement of arriving in Grapevine and become more comfortable with the training event as a whole. I eagerly jumped on the opportunity to sit in on sessions and learn the content, when I wasn’t busy hopping from room to room capturing photo and video content for CADCA’s social media platforms. The first session I attended was Building a Coalition to Go the Distance with CADCA Master Trainer Dorothy Chaney and Grenae Dudley. The room was packed with not only coalition leaders learning how to better their communities, but also various sector leaders, people working in recovery and other areas of prevention, municipal government employees, and private company liaisons. It was great to see that the messaging and information CADCA publishes is applicable not only to its members, but to the entire substance use and misuse prevention field, across disciplines and political lines.
Wednesday: This day was spent in engaging training sessions, taking photos for the Facebook Album, going live on Instagram, and exploring the youth programming. In the morning, I attended a session by CADCA’s very own Evaluation and Research team titled, Information in Formation: Using Your Community’s Data, where I got great insights on best practices for a prevention-minded data scientist. This session gave me a clearer vision on how many moving parts it takes to form a lasting coalition. It especially emphasized the importance of data, not just to fulfill the DFC grant requirements, but to target desired populations with resources to make the biggest difference in each community. When the session ended, I enjoyed a quiet lunch before getting right back into the swing of things and running over to the Youth Leadership side to see what the future prevention leaders were up to. Immediately I was struck by the drive with which the youth tackled the workshops and interactive activities they were part of. The walls were covered in art, ideas, and Post-It notes. Session leaders were giving feedback, support, and attention to everyone. The vibrancy and diversity of ideas was overflowing. It was no surprise then that later in the evening, during the youth talent show, all of the youth showed up and supported each other in a spectacular succession of performances that had me laughing, crying, and clapping as hard as I could.
Thursday: The last day of the conference was filled with a mix of emotions. Even though everyone had been going non-stop for four days, there was still a palpable desire to keep the momentum going – we had some of the best last day turnouts for our sessions this year! I attended my final session, Communications for the Prevention Specialist, led by CADCA Master Trainer Stephanie Strutner, and got some great insights on how to apply my communications knowledge to the prevention field. It was sad to leave the final session, but I was filled with determination and hope. The week started off with me feeling like an outsider trying to find my place at Mid-Year, but it ended with me feeling like part of something bigger than myself. I cannot wait to attend the National Leadership Forum in February with the energy and passion that I have come to expect from our attendees. If you see me at any of our events in the future, please come up and say hi. There is nothing I love more than meeting members of the prevention field and learning more about how each of you are transforming your communities. Until next time, it has been a pleasure!