At JDRF’s Government Day, held every year in March, grassroots volunteer leaders from every JDRF chapter across the country assemble in Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and share their stories about life with type 1 diabetes.
The goal of Government Day—which actually lasts for four jam-packed days—is to educate lawmakers and make the case for new legislation and federal research funding in support of the diabetes community.
So far, the event’s track record is pretty amazing. According to Cynthia Rice, senior vice president of advocacy and policy at JDRF, participants’ efforts have resulted in Congress extending a $150 million per year Special Diabetes Program (SDP) multiple times, allowing for the continuation of promising ongoing clinical trials to find a cure for type 1 diabetes. Other accomplishments include a new initiative currently before Congress that will provide Medicare coverage of continuous glucose monitors (CGM), as well as the acceleration of FDA pathways for emerging therapies such as the artificial pancreas.
Just how do 150 volunteers from 50 different states and the District of Columbia make all this happen? The surprising secret to Government Day’s success, Rice believes, may lie in the stories that volunteers share about life with diabetes.
“After attending advocacy training sessions and other informational events, Government Day volunteers spend two days on Capitol Hill speaking with members of Congress. They are there to help Congress members and staffers get up to date on the latest initiatives and research funding needs,” Rice explains. “But they are also there to tell their stories … about what it’s like to live with diabetes or to care for a loved one with diabetes. Hearing these stories firsthand puts a face on diabetes and underscores why the programs we’re advocating for are so important.”
One Mom’s Experience
If you’re curious about diabetes advocacy, one of the easiest ways to get involved is to make contact with your local JDRF chapter.
Not long after her daughter’s diagnosis with type 1 at age 6, Mary Horn did exactly that when she decided that it was time to dip her toe into the waters of diabetes advocacy.
“I thought, what can I do?” the Iowa mom recalls. After looking at various advocacy options, Horn joined her JDRF chapter and started helping out on the local level. However, when one of Iowa’s Government Day delegates backed out at the last minute, Horn suddenly found herself headed to Washington.
“It was unexpected but ended up being an incredible opportunity,” says Horn. “Government Day is a way to build relationships and share our stories. Some Congress members or staffers have never known someone with type 1 diabetes. It’s empowering to make that personal connection as we educate about what diabetes is and what it’s like to have type 1.”
After that chance invitation to the capitol, Horn decided to make her advocacy role permanent. Today, she serves as Chair of the Grassroots Leadership Team (GLT) for JDRF Advocacy.
The feeling she gets from taking part in events like Government Day keeps her motivated to continue her efforts. “When you see what researchers are learning about diabetes, it’s so encouraging to know just how much progress is being made. It just gives you hope that we will find a cure.”
Add Your Voice
Volunteers head to Washington every March, but the work involved in JDRF advocacy takes place year round. Inspired to join in? Here are some grassroots steps you can take right now:
- Learn about the issues Government Day volunteers are advocating for this year (find more info here) and then call your congressional representatives and senators to let them know where you stand.
- Put it in writing! Send a personal note to your Congress members sharing your story and your stand on the issue.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and explain the goals of JDRF advocacy. Bonus: Since most newspapers are online and their articles appear in search engine results, your letter may reach a much wider audience than you expect.
- Stay current on the latest initiatives by signing up for text alerts from JDRF Advocacy. Text “ACTION” to 53731 (or JDRF1) to start receiving advocacy news alerts. You can also sign up for the JDRF Advocacy team’s newsletter here.
All these little steps can add up to big results for diabetes programs. It can also be a giant step toward feeling more empowered.
“When you share your story, you stop being a statistic,” Horn relates. “Advocacy has an impact. It’s a way to get educated and informed, and it’s a way to take a bad situation and say, ‘This isn’t going to hold us back.’”
For more information on Government Day and other JDRF advocacy and outreach efforts, visit Advocacy.jdrf.org.
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.