As you may know, the annual Alternatives Conference is the largest peer-run conference in mental health in the country and will take place December 4-7, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Austin, Texas (for more information you can go to www.power2u.org/alternatives2013).
You may not know that this year Alternatives is truly a cannot miss event, for several reasons, the top ten of which are outlined below. But first, perhaps a little background on the conference would be helpful.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) funded Alternatives Conferences beginning in 1985 with the conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Since that time the conference has met in states all across the country. However, it should be noted that our movement began to host national conferences well before we received any government support, with the first such meeting happening in 1972 in Detroit, Michigan. These were days full of grassroots activism where the conferences sometimes took place at campgrounds and many people would backpack or hitchhike great distances to get there.
It is important to not forget these days as we still have much to learn from the pioneers of our movement, some of whom will be at this year’s Alternatives. Without their activism, there would be no Alternatives Conference, and the National Peer-Run Technical Assistance Centers that administer them would not exist either.
Currently, three National Peer-Run Technical Assistance Centers rotate the honor of organizing the Alternatives Conference: Peerlink, the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse, and the National Empowerment Center.
Going in to my third year with the National Empowerment Center, this is my first year as the lead Alternatives organizer, and it has been quite an experience. Which leads me back to why this year in particular is a can’t miss event:
Top Ten Reasons Why Alternatives 2013
is the “Cannot Miss” Event of the Year
10. Location, Location, Location
Austin, Texas is famous for its lively artistic scene and progressive social climate. Austin’s friendly accepting culture of individual expression has made it a vibrant and eclectic creative center and haven for people of all walks of life. The Hyatt Regency is right in the middle of it all, and walking distance from all the action on 6th Street that includes live music, clubs, and great restaurants.
9. Health & Wellness Fair
For several years running, Alternatives has included a Health & Wellness Fair. This year it will take place all day December 4-5. With help from our friends at Peerlink, we will again have Peggy Swarbrick and the Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey offering free basic health checks that include blood pressure, glucose, and allergy tests. In addition, the Health & Wellness Fair is sponsoring early morning activities such as yoga and meditation.
8. A Tuesday Night Welcome
With many folks arriving on Tuesday, December 3, the Arts Committee thought it would be great to give a spectacular welcome and an opportunity to network. From 7:30 to 9:30 in the main ballroom, we will have a Mariachi band, bracelet making, refreshments, conversation, and … dancing? Should be a perfect way to wind down a bit after a long day of travel.
7. Arts Carnival
Another event before the conference even officially starts, we will again have the popular Arts Carnival from 8 to 11:30 am on Wednesday, December 4. We are planning five amazing interactive arts projects, including the return of the pillowcase project that will literally help to color the entire conference.
6. Open Mic
One of my personal favorites at Alternatives is Open Mic night, this year slated for Friday, December 6. Miss Altered States herself (a.k.a. Mark Davis) will be there to host the event, which always includes unbelievable talent right here in our own community. There will be poetry, singing, dance, film, and always a surprise or two. You have to see it to believe it.
5. Film Festival
For the first time in Alternatives history, we will be hosting a multi-day film festival Wednesday and Thursday, December 4-5. Featured films include KINGS PARK by Lucy Winer, Official Selection of the Woodstock Film Festival, and WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? by Brenda Vezina and P.J. Moynihan, which received Honorable Mention at the 2013 VOICE Awards.
4. Dance Night
Instead of our usual dance that we have inside the conference, we decided to take advantage of our location and explore some opportunities to experience music, comedy, and dancing right in downtown Austin. To this end, the Diversity Committee is co-sponsoring with the Arts Committee a Dance Night out in Austin on the night of Thursday, December 5. Stay tuned for a list of suggested venues.
3. The Lineup
Our Advisory Committee and Selection Committee did a wonderful job with our lineup this year. Our keynote presenters are Paolo Delvecchio, Chacku Matthai, William Kellibrew, and Marty Hadge. Click here for more information on each of our speakers. With experiences ranging from being on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” to working with some of the strongest peer-run community organizations in the country, we are quite fortunate to have these speakers to teach and inspire us.
Our workshops, institutes, and caucuses are exceptional as well as diverse. It is safe to say that many of the leading experts in mental health from across the country will be on the schedule, which will make for quite a mutual learning experience for us all.
Our theme this year is “Building Inclusive Communities: Valuing Every Voice.” These are rough times for many of us. We have endured several tragedies as a nation, and, indeed it seems we are a country in crisis. Many of us feel that we have lost a sense of community, and that to create a better life for us all, we need to build communities back up. We have made an extra effort to make this conference inclusive and diverse. We think this will be reflected in the presenters, attendees and throughout the conference. As a symbol to this commitment to inclusive communities, our goal is that every single person connects to our Multicultural Room, which is centrally located. We then hope that folks can bring back what they experience and learn at Alternatives to make their own local communities stronger and more inclusive as well.
Alternatives almost didn’t happen this year and it was your voice that helped to make it happen. It is also your attendance and participation that will make the conference itself great, whether you are a volunteer, a presenter, an attendee, a supporter, etc. A big thank you to those who have been involved in the planning so far.
Convinced yet? Please consider joining us in making Alternatives 2013 the “Cannot Miss” Event of the Year by registering today. The conference is open to anybody: peers, professionals, family members, neighbors – Anybody. See you in Austin.
Healing Voices: Oryx is a leader in the international consumer/survivor/ex-patient movement. Currently, he is the Director of the National Empowerment Center’s Technical Assistance Center. Oryx is co-founder, with Will Hall, of The Freedom Center, an empowerment and advocacy group.