The third annual Survive and Thrive conference hosted workshops that promote healing and offered a place for people to share their stories of surviving.
The three-day conference started Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Pioneer Place off fifth avenue downtown St. Cloud. Day one of the conference offered attendees workshops starting around 9 a.m. and running through the afternoon, followed with the ‘Survive & Thrive Jam’ running into the night.
“Last year was good, and it’s still an intimate conference where people can engage in conversation, but this year is bigger,” said Rex Veeder, Director of Survive and Thrive. After last year’s conference, Veeder said that he took a few weeks off, but he began working on the layout and details in November 2013. “Everything considered, including the workshops, dinners, musicians and artists, the conference is taking off,” he said.
With various workshops, events, keynote speakers and presenters, the conference brought medical professionals, professors and survivors to the conference. On Wednesday, Jimmy Baca, award-winning author, and Denise VanBriggle, curriculum specialist and literacy professional, led the ‘Freedom & Self-Expression,’ workshop that included students from the District 742 alternative learning program. The workshop aimed to promote healing and self-expression through writing.
“It was a transforming experience for about 35 young people,” Veeder continued. “What I witnessed was the forming of a community amongst them. It was powerful.”
“The one thing we’re trying to do is to help them understand that they have more options that they ever thought,” Veeder said.
On Thursday, after the morning keynote speakers, Bridgid Ruden, traumatic brain injury survivor, and Franking Condon, associate professor at the University of Waterloo, Canada, attendees gathered for lunch to hear a reading from Baca, and to also hear reflections of the workshop from some of those that participated.
Before Baca began his reading, he asked that the audience welcome three students from District 742. Near the back of the room, three students from District 742 stood together, and the audience welcomed them with applause. The room soon quieted and attention was brought back to the front, where Baca began reading the introduction from his latest book.
After Baca finished his reading, he asked that the three come to the front of the room, along with Marqus McGlothan, creative writing major at SCSU, and Tamara Wudinich, English major, to talk about their experiences with the workshop.
Baca greeted the three students as they came forward with a smile and said, “For me, it was one of the greatest workshops I’ve ever shared. Thank you.”
He then faced the audience and continued, “It was the most magical workshop you’ve ever witnessed. They were the ones that made it magical.”
Each person took a turn describing their thoughts about the workshop. The students all agreed that it allowed them to connect with the rest of their peers on a “deeper” level, and that the workshop resonated with them in a positive way.
After the students finished speaking, McGlothan said to the audience that “it was one of the most touching and influential moments in my life,” and then turned the mic over to Wudinich.
McGlothan performed a spoken word piece at the workshop, and said he found himself sharing experiences of his own that some of his family members didn’t even know about. “I felt they needed to hear it,” he said.
By engaging in the experience and talking about traumas or hardships, it gave the students the opportunity to see that whether you’re a professional or not, all sorts of people are forced to deal with their own traumas, he explained.
Going on his third year working with Veeder, McGlothan has attended every Survive and Thrive conference so far. Recalling his experience with the past two conferences, McGlothan said the conference is about promoting healing and confronting traumas and fears.
The pain doesn’t simply go away, however, the workshops and the conference gives you a way to express yourself and to find a way to get those bottled emotions out, he said.
“So when that emotion is out, you can look back on it, and that’s what helps you get through those hard times,” he said.
McGlothan transferred from Michigan State to SCSU, and while he was at Michigan State, he said that he was prescribed medication for depression. But after taking the medication twice, he said he felt like he was “going through life like a zombie.”
He stopped taking medication and found solace through writing, but said “I didn’t really have the belief that I could go somewhere with writing until I came to Survive and Thrive and met people like Rex Veeder and Jimmy Baca,” he said.
Ending the lunch just after 1 p.m. on Thursday, the conference went headed into its second session with more presenters and workshops to be had, and then ending with performances by ‘I Like You’ and ‘the Zombie Pit String Band.’
“There are dimensions of this that I’m profoundly moved by,” Veeder said. “To give people who have that sense of incompleteness and damage the opportunity to do this is healing for everybody.”
“And it’s all happening in this smaller community of St. Cloud.”