Using My Voice at Courage at Congress 2023
"I cannot change or fix my past struggles, but I can help to make sure that no other child feels the way I once did. "
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Lizzy Anderlik
When I was eleven years old, my family made the difficult decision to homeschool me after my local public school didn’t accommodate my food allergies in a way we were comfortable with. For years, I felt isolated and alone. Nobody I knew had food allergies, and there was not much awareness around the topic. After searching for support, I found FARE.
FARE provided me not just a community, but also advocacy skills that I have continued to use throughout my life. These skills have most notably been developed through FARE’s annual Courage at Congress: Advocate for a Cure events. These started in March 2020 when FARE hosted its first congressional fly-in, in which food allergy advocates met with their members of Congress to discuss issues impacting the community.
After virtual Courage at Congress events in 2021 and 2022, this year 200 FARE advocates and staff met in person in Washington, D.C., March 26-28, at the Willard InterContinental. The three-day Courage at Congress 2023 event was packed with engaging panels and advocacy training sessions that prepared advocates to lobby. In total, 125 House and Senate meetings featuring over 30 different members of Congress were conducted.
During these meetings, FARE advocates talked to their Congress members about FARE's priorities for advocacy at the federal level:
- The Congressional Food Allergy Research Caucus, which seeks to educate members of Congress and the public about the need to expand food allergy research and support the development of new therapies
- The ADINA (Allergen Disclosure in Non-food Articles) Act, which will label medicine for the Top 9 allergens and gluten
- The Protecting Children with Food Allergies Act (S.121), which will strengthen food allergy training for school cafeteria workers and provide employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) with information in preventing and recognizing food allergy
- Appropriations requests for food allergy research, which focus on increasing federal research, making schools safer, and ensuring the early introduction of allergens in WIC food packages.
As an Illinois constituent, I met with the offices of Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Senator Dick Durbin, and Senator Tammy Duckworth. During these meetings, I told my food allergy story and explained how the policies above would have changed my childhood.
Using my voice in such an active way was empowering and healing. As I reached my hand out to help future generations, I could not help but imagine holding my younger self — the one that felt so alone in her food allergy journey.
C.S. Lewis once said that “You can't go back and change the beginning but you can start where you are and change the ending.” As I have participated in FARE’s Courage at Congress events throughout these past four years, this quote has remained in the back of my mind. I cannot change or fix my past struggles, but I can help to make sure that no other child feels the way I once did.
Anyone who has attended Courage at Congress knows how truly magical it is. Standing on Capitol Hill with hundreds of other food allergy advocates is unparalleled, and the skills I have built through these events are life-changing. I am so thankful to the FARE Advocacy team for giving me these opportunities, as they have allowed me to grow in so many ways.