Every two years, the JDRF Children’s Congress invites 160 child ambassadors from across the country to travel to our nation’s capital to talk to Congress about what life with type 1 diabetes is like and why research to find a cure for T1D is so important. Applications are now being accepted for the 2017 Children’s Congress. Why should your child consider getting involved?

Simply put, Children’s Congress gives kids with T1D a powerful voice. As Brian Johnston, JDRF director of grassroots advocacy, explains, the young delegates “meet face-to-face with some of the top decision-makers in the U.S. government . . . [and have] a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help these members of Congress and staff understand more about the disease.”

Making Their Voices Heard

The three-day event draws kids from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Delegates are selected from as many as 1,500 applicants nationwide and range in age from 4 to 17. Approximately six international affiliation delegates also take part.

“Because delegates were chosen to attend, they have a special duty… to speak up on behalf of the millions of people living with T1D and the families and friends who love them,” Johnston notes.

To deliver their message, delegates meet with lawmakers and staff and attend a congressional committee hearing where selected delegates and celebrity advocates testify on the vital need for continued funding for new T1D technologies and research. In addition to spending time on Capitol Hill, delegates take part in activities to hone their leadership skills and bond with their fellow delegates, who often turn into close friends.

A Delegate’s Perspective

If Children’s Congress sounds like a life-changing event for the kids who attend, that’s because it is.

Victoria Vorholt from Louisville, Kentucky, was 15 years old when she served as a delegate to the 2009 Children’s Congress. For Victoria, part of what made the experience so powerful was discovering that she was part of a larger mission. As delegates share their stories and advocate for research funding, “you realize that you’re becoming a part of advancing technologies that will one day directly affect your life and the lives of so many others,” she explains.

Diagnosed with type 1 at age 11, Victoria also connected with other kids just like her for the first time by participating in Children’s Congress. “I was the first person with T1D to attend my school, and I felt alone in dealing with the struggles of managing my disease. At Children’s Congress, I was able to meet other kids around my age who also lived with T1D and felt part of a larger community of support that was working together to find new treatments and a cure.”

Pete Vorholt attended Children’s Congress with his daughter Victoria and felt equally transformed by the experience. “We went from feeling so alone and isolated to suddenly feeling connected with kids and families from across the country who all have the same concerns, the same fears, and the same hopes and drive to go from ‘type one to type none.’ Children’s Congress is an incredible advocacy effort and a concrete way to make sure these kids with T1D have their voices heard.”

How to Apply

If your child is interested in becoming a delegate, applications for the 2017 Children’s Congress can be obtained from JDRF. Delegates are chosen based on a combination of:

  • the strength of the child’s application;
  • a personal letter written by the applicant to his or her members of Congress;
  • the child’s involvement in T1D advocacy work thus far; and
  • recommendation by staffers at the child’s local JDRF Chapter.

Finalists are chosen by the JDRF Children’s Congress Volunteer Selection Committee, a group comprised of JDRF Advocacy volunteer leaders from around the country.

Any Child Can Be an Advocate

Admittedly, competition for the approximately 160 spots is stiff. But what’s wide open is the opportunity for kids with T1D to mirror the work of the Children’s Congress by becoming involved in government advocacy events taking place through their local JDRF Chapter, such as the JDRF New Member Outreach Initiative, a program that connects newly sworn-in members of Congress with their constituents affected by T1D. By joining the initiative, JDRF will work to schedule a local meeting with new members of Congress in your area to give you and your child (and other local families) the opportunity to teach the lawmaker about T1D and ask for their support of T1D research in Congress.

And happening right now, JDRF Advocates are meeting locally, in their home states and district offices, with their members of Congress during the Promise to Remember Me Campaign. The purpose of these meetings is to establish personal relationships with senators and representatives and explain to them how they can help create a world without T1D.

If you’re interested in taking your first steps towards advocacy, all you need to do is contact your local JDRF Chapter and explain that you’re interested in creating a world without diabetes. Your local leaders will have plenty of ideas for getting started, including joining a walk or attending a gala or other local programs. Kids who enjoy T1D advocacy can also join the Youth Advocacy Leader (YAL) program to take on a greater role.

If your child is ultimately chosen to become a Children’s Congress delegate, what may seem like the culminating event of your diabetes advocacy may be only the beginning — for both of you! Since participating in Children’s Congress, Victoria went on to intern at the JDRF Advocacy office and help out at the staff level for the 2015 Children’s Congress. Her father Pete is now the Advocacy Team Chair for JDRF’s Kentucky Chapter in Louisville.

As Pete confirms, “There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference. Once you take that step, you start to see just how close we are to finding a cure. For kids and for parents, advocacy work is life-altering and life-affirming!”

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

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JDRF Government Day: What Can You Do?
People in the Know: Giving Back
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