When JDRF Advocacy Volunteers Gather, Big Things Happen!

Excerpts from this blog were originally posted in the Spring 2014 edition of The Loop, a JDRF Volunteer Leadership Newsletter.

JDRF Advocacy was proud to announce that on March 27, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a one-year extension of the Special Diabetes Program (SDP), at the current funding level of $150 million, as part of the ‘Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014′ (H.R. 4302). On March 31, the U.S. Senate followed suit with their approval of the ‘doc fix’ package. The President signed the legislation into law (Public Law 11-93) on April 1. With this timely one-year renewal, SDP-funded researchers will be able to continue promising clinical trials that are leading to better treatments, therapies and ultimately a cure for type 1 diabetes.

The Grassroots Leadership Team (GLT) with Jeffrey Brewer at JDRF Government Day (Not pictured, Jill Folsom from the GLT)
The Grassroots Leadership Team (GLT) with Jeffrey Brewer at JDRF Government Day (Not pictured, Jill Folsom from the GLT)

For JDRF advocates around the country, this was no small feat! Thank you for helping make this possible, however we aren’t quite done yet! We now need to make sure Congress knows how thankful their constituents are for the renewal. Please take the time to thank both your U.S. House Member and your U.S. Senators for their help in ensuring this vital research program continues. Then, share with your friends and family, and ask them to send their thank you to Congress as well!

So how did we secure this renewal? Just two weeks before Congress acted, more than 150 volunteers from around the U.S. met here in Washington, D.C. for JDRF Advocacy’s ‘Government Day,’ an annual Advocacy conference held each March. Registration, which began on Saturday, March 8th kicked off with heartfelt greetings between JDRF Chapter Advocacy Team Chair volunteers, regional Grassroots Leadership Team members and JDRF Advocacy staff, many of whom had been on conference calls for a full year together, but finally got the chance to meet in-person for the first time! After settling in, our group gathered that evening for a program full of awards, Advocacy announcements and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after the ‘introductions’ session – “Who are you Advocating for in D.C.?”

Sunday’s program kicked off with a Special Diabetes Program update with Judith E. Fradkin, M.D., Director, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Richard A. Insel, M.D., JDRF Chief Scientific Officer; and Cynthia Rice, JDRF SVP of Advocacy & Policy. Their engaging and conversational-style roundtable was then followed by an edge-of-your-seats legislative update. After breaking for the State-by-State planning lunch, the group dispersed for smaller instructional breakout sessions, which covered everything from recruitment and Hill issues to social media Advocacy. One main theme remained constant however: how to best engage the type 1 diabetes community back at home, and make sure they continue to have the opportunity to speak up to their Members of Congress.

Some of the JDRF 2013 Children's Congress parents at JDRF Government Day
Some of the JDRF 2013 Children’s Congress parents at JDRF Government Day

After two full instructional days, the group was more than ready to hit Capitol Hill with all of their T1D passion and might. A whopping total of 492 meetings were set up with Federal Legislators and their staff, educating them on daily life with type 1 diabetes and the research the Special Diabetes Program is funding. As a first-time attendee, Kelley Robbins, JDRF’s Manager of Volunteer Communications, explained, “I had never been able to see firsthand such a room full of JDRF’s best and brightest volunteer leaders coming together all in one place! By Monday, what an empowering feeling it was to walk through the Halls of Congress ready to tell our story, to motivate eachother as peers, and to further JDRF’s mission of taking Type One to Type None.” Upon arrival back from the Hill on Monday evening, Jeffrey Brewer, JDRF President and CEO, and David E. Wheadon, M.D., JDRF EVP of Research and Advocacy, met the volunteers and spoke in a powerful group session about the latest in type 1 diabetes studies, technologies and JDRF’s vision of turning Type One into Type None. Everyone was then excitedly sent off to bed early, as we had another packed day up on the Hill the next morning.

Each year, it never fails. JDRF Advocacy volunteers leave feeling a surge of new empowerment when they realize just how important their voice is to Congress. Volunteers never fail to report seeing scrapbooks from their Chapter’s Children’s Congress Delegate in a Member office or framed photos from Promise to Remember Me Campaign meetings sitting on their shelves. This is a testament to how powerful JDRF is and how important it is for Congress to hear from you, the constituents back home.

But then, one more amazing thing happened. Two short weeks after the last of the JDRF Government Day attendees headed on out of town, Congress reminded us all just how important it is for them to hear from us and they renewed the Special Diabetes Program for one year. Let another year of Special Diabetes Program-funded critical T1D research continue!

By Amanda McKinney