Last weekend, I joined some of the best and brightest of JDRF’s volunteer leaders as they gathered in our nation’s capital for one of the organization’s biggest advocacy events—JDRF 2013 Government Day. Although the name “Government Day” suggests otherwise, the event is actually four jam-packed days. During the first two, attendees received intensive courses on effective advocacy to prepare them for scheduled meetings to talk with their Members of Congress and/or Congressional staff about type 1 diabetes (T1D) and JDRF. Those meetings are what primarily fill the next two days, but the overall spirit of community experienced at this weekend (and beyond) gathering simply cannot be overstated.
The 14th annual event, held March 16 to 19, included more than160 volunteer leaders and advocates, representing 48 states. Like many of our readers may be, I was a newbie to Government Day. The energy in this group was nothing short of infectious. Their unflagging cheerfulness was counterbalanced by an almost steely determination to get their message across to the Congress—I can attest, this was a hard crowd to say “no” to.
Washington, D.C., may have welcomed us to the cold and damp, but advocates got a warm welcome Saturday. The event opened with stories from a few individuals who have personally benefitted from T1D research advances that JDRF has helped to make possible—including those who have participated in clinical trials of artificial pancreas systems and those who have received islet cell transplantations.
Sunday, attendees received a progress report from the Special Diabetes Program— the federal program that provides approximately 35 percent of government funding for T1D research run by the National Institutes of Health and that was renewed at the end of last year for $150 million for one year. Government Relations staff then outlined priority legislative issues and messaging for Capitol Hill visits, and the Grassroots Advocacy staff followed with a spirited update on “The Vital Role of Technology in JDRF Advocacy.”
Breakout sessions provided in-depth discussion forums for specific topics. The Social Media session was standing room only—with, of course, a staff member quietly Tweeting select sound bytes the whole hour. In another session, JDRF Government Relations staff showed off some impressive improvisation skills by role-playing different scenarios that might unfold inside an actual meeting with a Member of Congress. In other breakout sessions, staff helped volunteer leaders focus on advocate recruitment and training, local team building, and the importance of using our data systems properly to keep track of our many advocates.
At the center of the event was Sunday evening’s Government Day Awards Dinner. The year’s JDRF Advocacy Awards were presented by JDRF National Volunteer Leadership Chair Camille Nash, of Minnesota, and JDRF President and CEO Jeffrey Brewer.
Congratulations are in order for:
- Perseverance Award: Meredith Cocke (Houston Gulf Coast Chapter) and Gail Wangenheim (Oregon/SW Washington Chapter)
- Team Builder Award: Scott Minor (New York City Chapter)
- Social Butterfly Award: Paula Fairchild (Kentucky Chapter) and Beth McCrary (Palmetto Chapter)
- Above & Beyond Award: Flash Black (East Tennessee Chapter)
- Thomas Edison Award: Rosemary Fuller (Eastern PA/Delaware Chapter)
- At Home on the Hill Award: Karen Woicekowski (Delaware Branch)
- Rookie of the Year Award: Debbie Resler (San Diego Chapter)
- Advocate of the Year Award: Heather Cook (Northeast Wisconsin Chapter)
Monday morning, before the first meetings kicked off on Capitol Hill, the advocates heard a panel of JDRF’s top executives speak about the increasingly closer partnership between advocacy and research. “I hope that what you take away from our discussion today … is that advocacy is more important than ever,” said President Brewer. Judging by the excitement that ensued as advocates made last-minute preparations for their meetings, they were more than up to the challenge.
Then it was off to the main event—meeting personally with Members and staff on Capitol Hill. Monday morning may have begun cold and dreary, but as if to present an analogy of the willpower and the passion of our advocates, by Tuesday morning’s meetings, the sun was shining warm and bright. Over this two-day marathon of Hill visits, 490 offices heard from our many talented leaders who came into their offices to talk about their own stories, about the difficulty of living with T1D for their loved ones and themselves, about the importance of continued research, and about why JDRF will not sleep until we cure, treat, and prevent T1D. Suffice it to say, no attendee of JDRF 2013 Government Day returned to their airplane, train, or car on Tuesday night feeling that they had not given it their all, or had not made a real difference in the fight.
JDRF would like to thank all of our volunteer leadership and advocates from all over the country who attended Government Day—for their energy, their enthusiasm, and their unwavering dedication to the mission that brings us all together. It is you who best drive what we do, and it is you who motivate us every day.
Want to be a part of the action? Sign up as JDRF advocate today. You’ll find out how far you can go by just raising your hand, and lending your voice.