In June, our dreams and planning became a reality in the first-ever Sibs’ Journey Conference at Brandeis University. We were able to bring in leading experts in special needs trusts, members of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Sibling Support Network, the ARC of Massachusetts, and the Sibling Leadership Network, and community organizers of all kinds to present at our weekend conference. We brought in 25 participants for the weekend and our numbers grew as the programming continued because those presenting kept asking us if they could join us for the entirety of the weekend. Through programming and presentations, we built a strong, resilient group of young-adult sibs who are now better informed on disabilities and sibling issues of various and diverse subjects.
We opened the conference by getting to know each other outside of the sibling role and building the foundation for a strong community. Hannah Hoffman, a sib who we interviewed last summer, shared her powerful journey with us and then we ended the evening by sharing the Sibs’ Journey story. Once we headed back to the dorms, it was immediately clear that a strong community was being created. There were people in the hallways talking late into the night.
The focus of Saturday was to provide sibs with the tools and information they might need to move forward and shape their relationship with their sibling. We heard from a lot of amazing speakers:
-Representatives from the Massachusetts Sibling Support Network shared their general presentation on future planning
-Ken Shulman spoke about estate planning and special needs trusts
-Gael Orsmond shared some of her research on sibs
-KristaRose Popek spoke about communication strategies and her work as a communication specialist
-Kerry Mahoney did a general presentation on services provided by ARCs and the Massachusetts ARC
-Alex Nadworny spoke about different housing options
We had a sib panel during lunch that was moderated by Don Meyer where participants could ask questions about the sibling experience, future planning, family relationships, or any other topic.
The afternoon culminated in our keynote address, which was given by Don Meyer, founder of the Sibling Support Project. Don spoke about the sib experience and what is important for service providers and parents to know about sibs. A lot of participants told us later that they found Don’s address to be very validating of their experiences as sibs.
After a long and intense day, we all went out to Cambridge and Harvard Square for a night of fun and relaxation.
We structured Sunday in a way that would provide conference participants with a concrete idea of how they can move forward from the conference. One of our participants approached us and asked if she could share a poem she had written with our community, so we decided to begin the morning with an “open mic” activity. It was really powerful to hear participants share their stories, experiences, and reflections with the conference community.
Then Allegra Stout, a current fellow of the Jewish Organizing Institute and Network (JOIN) for Justice taught participants about one-to-ones, a useful strategy for community organizing and advocacy. The presentation included time for participants to practice one-to-ones with each other, so they would know exactly how to do it when they returned to their home communities.
Our final presentation was about the Sibling Leadership Network and we had the pleasure of having their executive director, Katie Arnold, with us for the entire weekend. She shared her story, some of the work that the SLN is doing, and the best way for participants to get involved. (A few of our conference alumni have now started SLN chapters in their areas!*)
We wrapped up the conference and weekend by gathering as a community to share our reflections from the weekend. We asked each participant to share a moment from the weekend that stuck out to them and one concrete plan they had for moving forward from the conference. It was deeply moving to hear from each participant how the weekend helped them shape and understand their experience as a sib. Many of them had never met another sib or been in a space devoted entirely to sibs prior to the conference. It was clear by Sunday afternoon that we were all part of a unique, strong, and supportive community. Moreover, our final community gathering was a beautiful reminder of why we founded Sibs’ Journey in the first place.
Thank you again to our funders and readers: you have provided a network of never-ending support for the three of us and our project and for that we are incredibly grateful.*Kara Sellix founded SIBS NJ, a support network for sibs in the New Jersey area. Sylvia Collazo founded Florida Sibling Alliance, a support network for sibs in Florida. **For more details, check out the official schedule and speaker bios.