In a few more weeks, our 40th anniversary will wind down to a close. Things will go back to normal – somewhat. You see, for this past year, we have been commemorating our historic milestone. But in the midst of celebrating and highlighting our accomplishments, we never stopped or slowed down in our efforts to serve the spondyloarthritis community. Being true to our mission empowered us to make it this far. And continuing to focus on the impact of our work and the needs of our community will propel us to another 40 years.
We are fortunate that some of the founders of our organization are still connected with us today. They remind us how and why we started this journey in 1983. You’ve probably heard it said many times that “before our founding, there was no support network, resources for educational materials, or even a single pamphlet for people diagnosed with the disease.” It’s important to understand this statement’s significance to put our journey into context.
In literature, we might describe SAA’s 40th anniversary as a hero’s journey. The journey begins with the hero in the “ordinary world,” but sensing that something isn’t quite right or missing, the hero answers a call to adventure. The journey then transforms the hero and empowers them to grow and achieve things they didn’t know they could. In SAA’s journey, the “some- thing that wasn’t quite right” was the lack of visibility, support, and timely diagnosis for the more than 3.2 million Americans living within the SpA community. SAA’s 40 years of service have been the journey that transformed a handful of volunteers into a national organization that has achieved far more than they may have imagined at the time.
SpA is not rare. It’s more prevalent than rheumatoid arthritis, ALS, and multiple sclerosis combined. The disease with the “funny name” but not so funny physical, emotional, and financial complications still doesn’t have the same level of awareness as these other diseases within the public – yet. We continue to do the work to raise awareness, grow our programs, extend support, and fund research. Throughout the years, with the support of our partners, board members, volunteers, and members like you within our community, we have been able to increase the number of comprehensive patient and clinician-focused programs offered, fund and support innovative research projects, grow our nationwide network of support groups, and advocate at both the state and federal levels to affect public policies. And even after 40 years, we recognize there is still more to do.
Our quest set us on course to build something that didn’t exist and hadn’t been done before. Like any journey, our journey has been filled with many twists and turns. Some days have been marked with epic triumphs. Others have been a test of our fortitude and courage to keep going. But every step of the way has been appreciated, and we are thankful to all of you who have been with us.
As we look back over this 40th anniversary year, we are filled with hope from voices that still speak to us from the photos of days past and stories that touch our hearts and move us into action. We look forward to continuing to serve this community and share the journey with you.