Meet Your 2023 Children’s Congress Delegates
We are thrilled to announce that eight outstanding youth from the JDRF Mid-Atlantic chapter will be heading to Capitol Hill this summer as JDRF 2023 Children’s Congress Delegates.
JDRF Children’s Congress, our highest profile advocacy event, is held every two years in the nation’s capital. This summer from July 9–11, 2023 more than 160 selected Delegates, ages 4 to 17, from across the nation and around the world will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Members of Congress and other Federal decision-makers to shine a light on the day-to-day experiences of life with T1D and to advance our key issues.
Throughout the event, these delegates will participate in leadership and character-building programming, interact with T1D role models, and engage in a number of activities on Capitol Hill, including attending a Senate hearing to share personal testimonies that highlight the challenges of living with T1D and the need for continued Federal funding through the Special Diabetes Program (SDP).
Meet the Delegates
Emory Ellis, Ashburn, VA
Age at T1D diagnosis: 12
Emory and two of his siblings have T1D, so he understands how much work and support (and money) it takes to manage it. This has driven him to do all he can to spread awareness about T1D, including fundraising for One Walks and being a Youth Ambassador. Emory worries about people with T1D who don’t have health insurance, so he’s looking forward to speaking to his Congressional representatives about reducing the obstacles people with T1D face to stay safe and healthy.
In his free time, Emory plays on a competitive travel volleyball team, which he is especially proud of. At school, he’s a member of the Student Council Association and manages their social media accounts. He plans on studying media communications in college. “I hope one day to be an influencer for good—not just because I have T1D, but in spite of it!”
Maddie Hawkins, Arlington, VA
Age at T1D diagnosis: 3
Maddie doesn’t remember what her life before being diagnosed with T1D was like, but she does remember her dad (who also lives with T1D, along with her brother) telling her that she was strong enough to handle it. She has worked hard to spread awareness and advocate for a cure by meeting with Members of Congress, fundraising for JDRF One Walk and participating in a clinical trial. Maddie says that advances in technology like continuous glucose monitors CGMs and insulin pumps have “greatly improved the life of my entire family,” and she wants to ensure that T1D research progress continues and that T1D tech is more accessible.
Maddie enjoys playing soccer, creative writing, and singing as a part of her school’s Madrigal singing group. She volunteers as part of an afterschool program where she tutors elementary school students in reading and math, and would love to write fiction or work at a publishing company when she’s older.
Riley Kitts, Culpeper, VA
Age at T1D diagnosis: 1
Riley is passionate about the importance of T1D research advancements and the development of new technology to make managing T1D easier, and she’s played an instrumental role in both of these areas through her participation in clinical trials like an artificial pancreas study in 2015, and most recently, the Tandem Control IQ study. Riley’s mother and grandmother also live with T1D, so she looks forward to coming to DC to raise awareness and encourage Members of Congress to support T1D research efforts, and continue to fight for affordable insulin to help all those living with the disease.
Riley loves reading, writing, video editing, and doing various crafts, especially sewing. She is proud of being accepted into the National Junior Honor Society, making her local library’s teen advisory board, and keeping her grades up. Riley shares, “diabetes has never been the thing that prevented me from doing the same activities as others,” something she is especially proud of. When she’s older, Riley isn’t sure what she’d like to do, but is thinking of a career in teaching or becoming a pediatric endocrinologist.
Annika Madsen, Towson, MD
Age at T1D diagnosis: 12
Annika can almost always be found outdoors, whether it’s biking, hiking, running, skiing, or playing tennis. Recently, Annika was certified to SCUBA dive and has completed six dives! She is especially proud of being able to dive while managing her T1D. Annika also enjoys singing, reading, and cooking.
Annika is very outspoken about the mental health issues that sometimes accompany T1D. “When we talk about the difficulties of living with type 1 diabetes, we often forget about the toll it takes on mental health.” She is thankful to be thriving in her “new normal.” Annika recently spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic volunteering with a youth organization that runs camps and provides education for kids with T1D living in Latin America. Hoping to become a role model for others with T1D, Annika plans to continue her advocacy work and outreach efforts with a career in social entrepreneurship and advocacy, especially within the diabetes community.
Karson Owen, Glen Allen, VA
Age at T1D diagnosis: 8
Karson is a “take charge” kind of guy, he leads his own JDRF One Walk team, founded “Go Blue Day” at his elementary school to raise awareness about T1D, worked with his middle school to hold the same event, and uses his love of creating content and videos to raise awareness on his YouTube channel. Karson has served as a JDRF Youth Ambassador, and had the opportunity to meet with President Biden to discuss healthcare costs for people living with T1D. Karson’s mother and sister (who served as a Delegate in 2013) also live with T1D, so advocating for a cure is a priority for their family.
Outside of raising T1D awareness and advocating, Karson plays recreational basketball, plays a variety of instruments including drums, guitar, violin, xylophone, and piano, and sings in the choirs at his church and school. When he is older, Karson dreams of being a musician and playing in the NBA, or if there is no cure yet for T1D, he wants to become a scientist and help find a cure for T1D and other diseases.
Jack Samples, Virginia Beach, VA
Age at T1D diagnosis: 1
If you ask Jack what he loves to do, he’s likely to answer “sleep!” which isn’t a surprise considering how much he has going on! He is active in scouting, recently achieved his first class rank and is working towards his Eagle! He’s on the principal’s list at school, and loves art, gaming, skateboarding, and riding motorcycles.
Jack is not only a pro at raising awareness about T1D, but also at supporting other people impacted by the disease. Jack’s twin brother was diagnosed with T1D just last September. “I’m glad that I’m able to help my brother because I’ve been handling diabetes for as long as I can remember.” He has also spoken to fellow Scouts living with T1D, students at school, and supported a family friend who received a T1D diagnosis. His mom says “Jack is always there for people to speak with them and encourage them. They know we’ll talk to anyone who has been diagnosed and have their back.”
Anya Smariga, Middletown, MD
Age at T1D diagnosis: 8
When Anya was 10 years old, one of her close friends from diabetes camp passed away due to complications from severe low blood sugar. “She is a big part of what inspired me to raise money to fund research for a cure through JDRF.” Anya holds fundraisers for JDRF at her school and even started a jewelry business, Marijoy Jewelry, and donates the proceeds to JDRF. She also helps drive T1D research forward through participation in clinical trials.
Anya has been a competitive swimmer since the age of 6 and is thankful for advances in T1D technology that make controlling her blood sugar easier during activities. In the future, Anya hopes to have a job where she can help others with medical challenges. “I want to be the light for others like my doctors were for me.”
Jane Vanden Eykel, Roanoke, VA
Age at T1D diagnosis: 5
Jane believes supporting T1D research and raising awareness is very important. She enjoys participating in all of the JDRF events, and especially loved when she got to cut the ribbon for One Walk. She has also done many fundraisers, her favorite one being a lemonade stand in kindergarten. “I want to help create a cure before anyone else has to suffer through what I and others have.”
Jane loves science, math, bugs, and digging in the dirt. When she grows up, she wants to be an entomologist—her biggest dream is to discover a new type of insect! Jane would also like to write a book about T1D one day, so that others can better understand what T1D is and what it’s like to live with the disease.