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Annual Wellness Conference delivers healthy message

By Andrea Holata

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. — Tribal members from all Seminole reservations traveled to the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort for the 19th annual Wellness Conference from July 15-20.

The conference provided Tribal members with the opportunity to listen to their peers’ personal testimonies of alcohol and/or drug abuse. Also, guest speakers and experts from across the nation provided specialized insight into wellness and living a better lifestyle. The topics discussed included addiction, recovery, fitness, family, stress, gambling and grief.

Seminoles in Recovery sponsored the event with other Tribal departments, including Allied Health and Fitness, Family Services, Health, Recreation, Culture, Education and Seminole Police.

“The objective of the conference is to start a new, healthy routine in your life,” said Helene Buster, director of Family Services and coordinator of Seminoles in Recovery’s annual Wellness Conference. “A lot of people are here because they are trying to get well from substance abuse, grief, addiction and diabetes.”

Wellness – comprised of mental, physical and spiritual components – covers many aspects of a person’s life and affects people in different ways.

After Sunday evening’s registration and dinner, the weeklong conference kicked off early Monday morning with a 2-mile walk on the beach with nearly a hundred walkers and runners participating every morning. Several of the walkers said they enjoyed the exercise and will try to use the Wellness Conference walks to start a daily routine to get back into shape.

Throughout the week, educators and presenters provided information on many topics, including protecting Seminole children, the secrets of staying in love and getting past the diagnosis. For some presenters, this was not their first Wellness Conference, including Don Bartlett and Denise Alley, sharing broken memories of childhood and learning how to love and accept themselves. Several of this year’s presenters were from the Seminole Tribe’s departments as well.

The conference attendees’ favorite speakers were the personal testimonies provided by Tribal members in recovery. They told stories of their struggles with addiction and their new lives in recovery, hoping to inspire others fighting the same battle.

On the last afternoon of the conference, participants gathered in a meeting room to have a sobriety countdown. With the highest number of years of sobriety starting at 42, the participants came forward one by one, announcing their time in recovery. They all shook hands and joined the circle of sobriety. At the end of the countdown, the room was filled with everyone holding hands in support of each other living a healthier, addiction-free lifestyle. With a combined 713 years of sobriety in the room, attendees gave each other courage and strength.

In addition to the adults meeting all week, conference organizers planned an agenda for the youth attendees, where they attended daily classes with age-appropriate content. The youth’s topics included nutrition, fitness, diabetes and myths about drug use. In the afternoons, youth were treated to trips to the movies and to a water park.

“This is an event that we hope that will get everyone started on a new routine in their life,” Buster said. “One day at a time, we are trying to get healthy and trying to learn a whole new, different lifestyle. That’s what it’s all about at the Marco Island Wellness week.”

Feathered masks, long dresses, jesters and beads filled the room for the Mardi Gras-themed dinner party that closed out the week. Participants enjoyed each other’s company while listening and dancing the night away.

“I had a good time this week at the conference, and I’m happy to see everyone having a good time tonight sober,” conference participant Alvin Buster said.

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