On January 29th, we spoke with JDRF Hope Gala Event Co-Chairs, Steve and Julie Economos, to learn more about the upcoming event. See below for our interview with these T1D parents and learn more about how the JDRF community – you – can make an impact on this year’s Gala.
What is your connection to T1D?
Julie Economos (JE) We have four children total and three of them have Type 1 Diabetes. Our oldest MJ is 12 and was diagnosed at the age of 5. Our second son Ty is 10 now and he was diagnosed just when he turned 6. And then our daughter, Catelin, was diagnosed three days after Ty. She was 4 and she is now 8. So we are deeply entrenched in blood sugars and carbs counting and insulin pumps and all those things.
How long have you been involved with JDRF?
Steve Economos (SE) When MJ was diagnosed at 5, we spent the first part of the year really understanding the disease, what it was about and how to manage it. We became aware of JDRF in the hospital when he was first diagnosed. A volunteer was right there with the teddy bear in a basket. Ever since then – I want to say a year after the diagnosis – I joined the local chapter as a board member and have been with the JDRF Georgia chapter for five years. Now I head up the Corporate Outreach Committee. We are in charge of corporate donations, reaching out, making business owners and corporations aware of what the disease is all about, and raising funds to bring more awareness, management, to hopefully see a cure. The cure is the end result we all want to see.
How important is the Hope Gala to JDRF’s mission?
(SE) In Georgia, the Hope Gala is the single largest fundraising event. We have set records raising over 2 million dollars the last couple of years before the pandemic. So it’s pivotal for us to keep this going…to have a successful Gala. I believe it might be one of the largest single-night fundraisers of any organization in Georgia. So we’re proud of the event. It’s an event that is critical to keep the donations coming in to find a cure.
(JE) It’s so much fun to see all of these people supporting the same cause, wanting the same end result, to be able to celebrate the progress that we have made, and knowing that being in that room that night is making a difference. Obviously it is about raising money first and foremost, but for the community it is a really great evening for everyone. We co-chaired it last year…it was like a practice run. It was very sad I didn’t get to wear my dress last year (laughs), so hopefully next year I will be able to wear it.
When will the 2021 Hope Gala take place? How will it be different in 2021 compared to 2020 (or even before that) due to the pandemic?
(JE) The Gala will be on May 1st.
(SE) It will be a virtual event this year, which hopefully will be the first and last virtual Gala. A lot of other chapters around the country have been successful (with the virtual galas). So I think it’ll be different but it will be fun just the same. We’re hosting a table virtually at our house with a small group of friends and family who have helped support JDRF, and we are inviting people all over the great state of Georgia to do the same and host virtual tables at their homes in small groups.
When you are with your family managing this disease all on your own, you kind of feel like you’re the only ones dealing with it, but when you get into that room (at an in-person gala) and you see hundreds of people all there for a collective cause, you realize that you are not alone. Either they have it, or a family member has it or a close friend, and you realize how big the community is. So we want to capture that as best we can in the Virtual Gala this year.
An important part of past Galas that drove attendance has been the social interaction – catching up with friends, eating, drinking, and dancing. How do you hope to address that this year?
(JE) It’s going to be a challenge, but I think the JDRF staff have great ideas to bring the community together. I think they’re going to make it really fun for everyone and we’ll still be able to get that sense of community with the different table hosts, with prizes for table hosts. I think it’ll be a really good event, but it won’t quite be the same as being in person.
(SE) Not to give everything away, but we are working on some talent, whether it’s music, comedians, or things of that nature to bring some zest and a good vibe to the entire Zoom evening instead of just people talking. I know that the Gala team is hard at work and got good ideas from other chapters that have done this. Quite frankly I was I was pleasantly surprised at how successful the other chapters were in terms of raising money…so we hope to do the same.
What are your immediate needs? Can people donate items for the auction?
(SE) Great question! Yes that’s exactly what we’re looking for. We still plan on doing an auction. So anything that anyone can do to help support the auction would be great. Another big need is to get the word out and spread the awareness that the Gala is happening this year and that we will do something virtually. The pandemic has affected everyone, but the disease hasn’t gone away. Unfortunately it’s still here rearing its ugly head, and the best way to combat it is through donations. So at the end of the day that’s what we all hope to do is to raise money. All of it goes directly towards find a cure, and managing this disease.
(JE) We are looking for table hosts too. So anyone who is comfortable having a small group of friends, or family, or quarantine friends, with them as their house for a small get-together. We will host a small group at our house. I think it will be fun. So, to sum up, we are looking for auction items, table hosts, and “Fund to Cure” donations.
Will there be any need for volunteers like usual?
(SE) It’s usually one heck of an event to put on when we have a live Gala, but with it being virtual, we don’t need as many volunteers other than volunteering to be table hosts. Being a table host is probably the best way to be involved this year if someone is interested in being a part of it.
What would you like to say to those who have the capacity to give?
(JE) Obviously these are different times of times and something that none of us ever expected to have to go through. And some people have been hit very hard. But for those who can give, I just want to say that this (Type 1 Diabetes) is still happening. It hasn’t gone away. My kids are still injecting themselves with insulin five six times a day; they have to change their sensors and deal with transmitter issues. It still 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year, pandemic or not. It’s still here and we hope that one day our kids will not have to wear this machinery on them. I’m sure everyone that has the Type 1 family member or friend understands that we really want them to live lives as normally as possible.
(SE) Insulin is making the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The prices are skyrocketing; Type 1 Diabetes just came out as the single most expensive disease to treat in the United States. So as difficult as these pandemic times have been, management of the disease is only getting harder. It’s so difficult for families to afford the proper care needed to take care of their child and no one should have to choose between the health of their child and feeding their family. So money is the way to help offset that. When I was first hearing about the virtual galas with the other chapters, I didn’t think they would raise as much as in person galas, but it is the opposite. It just shows how strong this community is – we are raising as much if not more! So it matters; your donations matter; we are all here for the same reason and that is to find a cure.
Please visit www.jdrfhopegala.com for more information.