For an explanation of the PeerFest Online Symposium, see this blog post. Thanks to Laura Khalil, John King, Wendy Latham, Dan Oppenheimer and Flora Releford for their willingness to take part. To learn more about PeerFest 2016, visit


Question: A prevalent theme that has emerged during the planning process is for PeerFest to be centrally focused on PLAY, and fun. We know that play can be emotionally rejuvenative and pro-mental health. On the other hand, we are trying to demonstrate that it’s possible for peers to put together a highly structured event that a professional organization like the Hogg Foundation can gladly put its name on. How much of a tension is there between these two goals?


From: John King
To: Laura, Wendy, Dan, Flora


When we are teaching a WRAP class, and the discussion centers on Wellness Tools, we use the example of children playing. We urge people to remember how much fun they had as a child. This conversation always sparks memories of fun things that the person used to do. I have had many people use their memories of childhood to create wellness tools for today (things they might, as adults, think too frivolous).  While some structure is needed in planning an event,  wellness and recovery are our primary goals.


I haven’t felt much tension in our discussions. This is where our lived experiences come into play. We all know from personal experience how important fun and relaxation have been to our journeys. As PeerFest is, above all, an event for and about peers, any erring should be on the side of creating a comfortable experience that people will remember fondly into the far future. As to the volume of activities, I think about how judicious we have been. We have been able to provide a myriad of choices without the schedule being over-crowded. This, again, is where our lived experiences have been helpful. We all remember our first exposure to Alternatives and other gatherings. We remember how we might have been overwhelmed. Our lived experiences have guided our planning.


Meeting the standards of an organization such as Hogg hasn’t been overwhelming or tension-inducing. Anyone who knows the history of the Hogg Foundation will know that event planning and having a good time were the hallmarks of Miss Ima. Look at the Azalea Trail in Houston today. The original planning, decades ago, was probably nerve-racking. The planning today is a cake walk. Each year, the Azalea Trail builds on past successes and errors. I think Miss Ima would look kindly on our efforts.


From: Laura
To: John, Wendy, Dan, Flora


While I do think there is generally a kind of inherent tension between the two goals, I agree with John in that I haven’t felt it in our committee discussions.  I think that from square one, we all whole-heartedly agreed on an equal need for both play and organization/professionalism. And so we’ve worked very deliberately to be accommodating to both of those needs.


Again, John is spot on in his analysis of the editing process when it comes to the amount of activities we’re offering and the role that our lived experience has played in planning. As someone who came into the committee with no experience with Alternatives, I had no concept of “conference fatigue” that I heard many of my fellow board members describe. After attending Alternatives 2015, I saw first hand how a peer could easily become overwhelmed by programming choices. Fear of missing out is a real thing and a total energy drain. So, I’m really proud of our event model, which will allow multiple opportunities to attend various programming. I think our lived experience is allowing us to plan with compassion.


From: Wendy
To: John, Laura, Dan, Flora


Greetings fine people!!!


My two cents is that the committee has done a great job in keeping things balanced and preventing people like myself who are play impaired from creating an environment akin to military basic training. I am sensitive to conference fatigue and find I experience more in the mental health world because I get triggered than I did in primary care. I always use a comfort/creative/meditation room if one is available, and I take frequent breaks. The opportunities the committee has provided for self-care and socializing through play are so important – however, I know I am not the only “play” impaired person around, so please be mindful that some attendees may choose private, personal time to recharge instead of a group activity and appreciate doing so without judgement.


From: Flora
To: John, Wendy, Laura, Dan


PeerFest has been a learning growing fest within itself, much like Texas seasons and just as the seasons come and go so will emotions. We are all unique and dance to the sound of our own drum beats. However, our heart beats to the rhythm of one. Each and every one of us came together for one purpose: PEERFEST.


I am always mindful to learn and grow from my life experiences, and to let it go. I choose not to be judgmental or speak badly of another person, nor will I be holding on to anger and worry because it will only grow crow’s feet, wrinkles, and cancer.


When I review a conference agenda I look for topics that are fun, playful and engaging. I can learn and retain information from a very pleasurable or a very painful experience. Therefore, I will choose a stimulating, playful learning structure over a serious didactic teaching or lecture setting whenever possible, simply because it works best for me — as opposed to a detected classroom where I’m painfully trying to stay awake.


Being in a playful learning environment reminds me of all the important life skills I learned as child while playing with my mother, father, grandparents, sisters, brother, cousins, and friends: to play by the rules, to problem solve, to be creative, to have higher levels of thought, to enhance my attention span, to cooperate, to be in balance, to say what is on my mind and heart, and to laugh out loud. In short, play teaches me that I AM.


The skills I learned in the playful moments in my childhood I carry over to my adulthood and they have played a key role in my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. I have managed and/or healed without the use of medication or surgery from two heart attacks, liver cancer, multiple sclerosis, asthma, back injury, blindness, and being struck by lightening, I have raised two beautiful daughters and I have been graced with two 10-year-old extraordinary grandsons with whom I’m enjoying every possible playful learning moment — from rock climbing, zip lining, skydiving and bike riding, to laughing, loving, and celebrating life.


I have learned that for me, playfulness is an alternative and holistic wellness tool for healing my mind, heart, and body as well as for cultivating a youthful, healthy and joyful lifestyle.

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