Diabetes Difference Makers Spotlight: Diabetes Will’s Way
At the dawn of December 2011, my mother placed a white envelope with $50 in my hand. The biggest allowance in my 12-year-old history! The elation of riches soon transformed as my mom paired the money with a simple message: “Use this to make a difference.”
The challenge forced me to think beyond baseball cards, video games, and my next soccer match. I tried hard to be kind in my daily life, but generous is kindness without obvious opportunity. If you ask me, this challenge was day 1 of Diabetes Will’s Way. Now, at this point in my life, I was not diagnosed with diabetes nor did I know what Type 1 diabetes meant. Yet, I believe this day is the beginning of our origin story because before this day, generosity could not have been considered my way. There is a secondary, subliminal message that my mom revealed that day. She showed me how fortunate we were as a family, but that fortune should be used as an opportunity to serve.
Finding meaning in my diagnosis
Less than a year later, diabetes came knocking on my door. November 20th, 2012 is my diaversary. I’d be lying if I said there were no tears. I’d be lying if I said there was no self-pity and frustration. I’d be lying if I said the self-pity and frustration doesn’t relapse to this day. As I came to understand Type 1 and realize the loved ones I had around me, however, I realized I was ready and able to take on this disease. Caleb, my long-time best friend, visited me in the hospital that day. He vividly recalls my composure stating, “literally everyone was more worried than you.” I did not know it yet; but when diabetes came knocking on my door, it delivered a white envelope.
My diagnosis time period aligned with the time Chuck Pagano, the Indianapolis Colts Head Coach, was diagnosed with cancer. Pagano began a cancer awareness campaign labeled “Chuckstrong.” My mom and I were driving to basketball practice and talking about diabetes. Eventually, I brought up using diabetes to make a difference. My mom connected the dots to the Chuckstrong campaign. Thus, we began our own campaign to raise money for JDRF’s cure research called “Willstrong.”
The Willstrong campaign began as one dimensional as far as raising funds goes. We sold short-sleeve, royal blue, cotton t-shirts. Scripted across the front was the word “Willstrong” and on the back “Stronger Than Diabetes.” I went door to door selling these shirts. My mom reached out to family members and friends through Facebook. The shirts caught on fast. My family members would post pictures flexing whenever they got one. My friends and I began Willstrong Wednesdays at school. A day in which we all wore our shirts. I began selling shirts out of my locker. My peers known and unknown began to buy shirts to support my cause. Teachers spied the trend and bought shirts as well. Half of my entire middle school class wore blue on Wednesday.
In under a year, my family and I raised $8,000 for JDRF. Our success gave me the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at the JDRF golf outing where even more money was raised in my name. The success was tremendous as far as fundraising and awareness goes, but my mom and I both felt the same dissatisfaction. Seeing the numbers of shirts and dollars raised pile up erected a sense of gratification and pride. Yet, it did not seem like we had anything to speak for it. I do believe the large diabetes organization put our donation to good use. Still, my mom and I felt the money could be used to make a difference here and now.
The more you know
The Willstrong campaign bore the fruit of connections to the diabetes community. My mom recognized the financial burden of the disease. Sure enough, one year after my diagnosis, my mom and I were back in the car on the way to basketball practice. She brought up how lucky we were to be able to afford this expensive disease because of good insurance. This time the subliminal message of the white envelope would be the root of our efforts. Through that conversation, my mom showed we were fortunate, and this fortune gives us a platform to help others with their diabetes expenses. We wanted to make a tangible difference, and allow the people who supported our journey to see the impact of their dollars.
With the help of my godmother and a basketball coach, Diabetes Will’s Way became an official 501(c)(3) charity in April 2014. Our mission was to help underinsured diabetic families afford their supplies. To achieve this mission, we afford grants to families in the form of an emergency grant or a durable medical equipment grant. To date, we’ve helped over 200 families afford their diabetes expenses at an average of around $950 a grant. We are a nationwide charity that has reached 32 states.
The success of Diabetes Will’s Way cannot be attributed to one person or group of people. We continue to be able to give because of our board members, donors, and families who are brave enough to ask for help. Diabetes was my family’s white envelope. It has made us think about how we can be generous and think beyond us. Every time we are granted the opportunity to give, we receive so much more. Sometimes burdens are blessings in disguise.