Volunteer Spotlight – Gabrielle Brits and Elena Lipkins


There’s a new dynamic duo at JDRF Bay Area – and Capitol Hill is sure to take notice! Gabrielle Brits and Elena Lipkins have been appointed Co-VPs of Advocacy on the JDRF Bay Area Chapter Executive Board of Directors. Gabrielle’s 12-year-old son Austin and Elena’s 12-year-old daughter Samantha have type 1 diabetes (T1D). Leslie Edelman, former VP of Advocacy, also has a 12-year-old child with T1D. The three mothers have bonded over raising their “tweens” with T1D. They are deeply committed to doing all they can to lessen the burden of T1D and ultimately find a cure. Leslie helped inspire Gabrielle and Elena to turn their “passion into action” and to take on the Co-VP roles.

Gabrielle and Elena want people to know that when it comes to fighting T1D, there is strength in numbers. Everyone can make a difference by becoming a JDRF Advocate and it doesn’t have to require a lot of time. Every letter, text, social media post or face-to-face meeting will help ensure the uninterrupted federal funding for T1D research is imperative.

“As Co-VP of Advocacy, I hope to be a voice in my community and Washington DC, to empower others to act, and to remind our Congressional leaders and Senators to remember the social, emotional, and fiscal impact T1D has on us all,” says Elena. “The work we do in advocacy directly funds research through the NIH, leads to new therapies and treatments to help reduce complications, and improve the lives of all people with T1D, until there is a cure.”

Gabrielle and Elena are no strangers to Capitol Hill. Elena recently accompanied Leslie to Washington DC for the annual JDRF Government Day – this is when advocates from around the country descend upon the Hill to ask for T1D research funding. Last year Austin was a California delegate for the JDRF Children’s Congress to help the top decision-makers in the U.S. government understand what life with T1D is like and why research to find the cure for is so critical. “I truly believe that a voice can be such a powerful thing, and when those voices come together, they have undeniable impact,” Gabrielle says. “And watching the 150 children at the Children’s Congress come together and speak before congress, and share their stories, it not only inspired me and all those in the room, but had significant impact with their legislators and congressional representatives, resulting in a renewal of the Special Diabetes Program or SDP.”

As everyone affected by T1D will tell you, the disease requires 24/7 attention with no breaks and brings constant worry, especially to the parents. A cure would mean freedom. “Samantha looks like a perfectly healthy child on the outside,” Elena says. “But this disease drives every decision she makes, every day. I estimate she makes 100 extra decisions per day more than other typical 12-year-olds. A cure would be the greatest gift and payback for all that T1D took from us.”

Gabrielle agrees. “A cure would mean that I could look at my child’s body and not see visible scars from all the pricks/needles. A cure would mean I won’t worry about what the future holds for my son,” she says. A cure would mean that we all won, because we turned Type One into Type None.”

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Gabrielle Brits lives in Campbell with her husband Gert and three children: Austin 12, Elsie 5, and Liezel, 2. She worked at Stanford University for eight years as a Program Manager for International Visitors & Affiliate Research Programs. She has written guest features for the Mercury News, Bay Area Parent Magazine, and Diabetes Forecast Magazine. In addition to her current role as Co-VP of Advocacy, she has served on the JDRF Walk Committee and as a Mentor for newly diagnosed families.

Elena Lipkins is the mother of two daughters and lives in San Francisco. She works as an independent contractor and project manager. She has served on the NACE National Board of Directors as VP of Marketing & Communications,  President of the Bay Area Chapter NACE; as Hospitality Board Member at SFSU; PTA Board member at her children’s elementary school, and is an advocate for San Francisco’s Parent’s for Public Schools. Elena also hosts a monthly T1D support group for Carb DM.