I asked Colleen, a 13 year-old, to write about her experience in the TAGS program at the GIG conference. This is what she has to say:
My first impression of the day at lunch: this day could have been worse. My last impression of the day in the hotel room: I’m not sure this day could have been any better. The TAGS (Teen Advocates for Gluten Sensitivity) conference was a truly amazing experience that taught me about speaking for myself and helped me meet other gluten intolerant teens like me.
When I first walked into the room, I saw maybe two or three other teens in there. I had come in with a friend, so that made about five people. I resigned myself to a pretty awkward day. Just as my friend and I came in, a lot of other people arrived. Maybe this won’t be so bad, I thought. We sat down at a table with some other girls. One girl sitting next to me introduced herself, pretty soon we had gone around the table telling everyone our names. After everyone had trickled in, Cynthia stood up and gave a little talk, and then introduced the first thing we were doing- a kind of Iron Chef competition. We were broken into four teams of three or four, and there were three judges, two of whom were teens at the conference. The team I was on lost, but the competition was fun, so it didn’t matter. Next we had a presentation from one of the teens at TAGS talking about what he did (like designing a video game and talking to one of President Bush’s closest associates) to advocate for himself. Throughout the day we also had a talk from Chef Aaron about ordering gluten free at restaurants, and we did several activities. At lunch everyone just had fun. There was definitely some stuff to laugh about. One of the girls at the conference accidentally went into the boy’s bathroom! At the pizza party (gluten free, of course) afterwards, everyone behaved like old friends, even though we had only known each other for half a day. We all exchanged emails, facebooks, and phone numbers so we could keep in touch.
This amazing conference really helped me discover how to advocate for myself, but more importantly, it helped me find other teens in the same situation I am in. I made new friends, and had a lot of great and funny experiences. The TAGS conference was definitely one the highlights of my summer, and I can’t wait to go back next year.