“All people have the right to live, love, work, play, and pursue their dreams in their community” (Real Voices, Real Choices, 2016).

In order to make this pursuit of happiness a reality for individuals with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and those recovering from drug and alcohol addition, the Transformation grant funded a group of 128 leaders meeting this criterion in the Fall of 2008. The mission of this gathering, which became known as the Real Voices – Real Choices Conference, was to discuss and develop the next steps for the ever-growing mental health consumer movement in Missouri. The Real Voices – Real Choices Conference, now in its tenth year, has grown from 128 attendees to almost one thousand.

According to Patty Henry, executive director of the Missouri Mental Health Foundation, a non-profit focused on raising awareness and public understanding, “This conference is an opportunity to foster growth for individuals and families living with mental illness, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and those in recovery for substance use disorders. It’s a great way to learn about new resources and programs available, how to advocate for yourself and others, develop new friendships and support systems, and at the same time, have a great time!” Last year, the conference offered a total of 40 sessions to attendees including: The Power of Your Own Voice, which taught about the power of positive thinking and self-esteem; Steps to Living on Your Own, and Getting to Your Good Life. This year, the conference will be held at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, MO from 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 20 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 22, 2017. Some of the goals for the conference include teaching learning strategies to help combat social stigma associated with mental health services, increasing awareness about the availability of those services, and encouraging individuals to build support networks and advocate for themselves.

Registration for the conference will be open on Monday, May 1. The cost for attending the conference is $95 for a single accommodation room or $160 for a double accommodation room, and includes all conference materials, activities, and four meals per person registered. Personal Care Attendants listed on the registration form are not required to pay a separate registration cost, and will share a room with the individual they are assisting. Both individual and group registrations are available. Individuals wishing to purchase additional items such as t-shirts, pizza dinner, vending machine snacks, or items from local shops, will do so at their own expense. Professional registration is also available at the cost of $160, which covers materials, activities and meals; however, professionals are expected to make and pay for their own hotel accommodations if desired. Event sponsored evening activities will include bingo and movie night on Sunday, and karaoke on Monday.

In an effort to make this conference a possibility for everyone, there are a limited number of scholarships available to the conference for consumers, self-advocates, family members and individuals in recovery through the Missouri Mental Health Foundation. Scholarships will cover the entire registration cost, transportation expenses not included. Applications for scholarships must be submitted no later than April 28.  Those wishing to setup an exhibit at the event may submit payment and registration as late as July 1, 2017 and still be included in the program book, or as late as August 1, 2017 with no guarantee on being listed in the program. 

Missouri Mental Health Foundation has provided a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the conference including information regarding accessibility, accommodations, entertainment, activities, and more. For more information, please contact the conference coordinator by email at consumerconference@dmh.mo.gov or by calling 573-645-7103.